The intrepid detective is back and director Guy Ritchie is ever more determined to make him more exciting than James Bond ever was. Except Robert Downey Jr. is no Daniel Craig, so a sense of mischief and a penchant for campy histrionics are never far when Mr. Downey has the screen.
A Game Of Shadows begins well, with some verbal jousting between Holmes and his ladylove. And from there we are quickly introduced to Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) and just as quickly informed that Holmes’s latest nemesis is ruthless and coldblooded.
By the time Watson (Jude Law) arrives at the home they used to share we should be well and truly in the thick of things. But for reasons best known to the filmmakers, awfully tedious wordplay and ham-handed exposition are employed to bog down the narrative.
Things buck up a bit when Holmes sits down in front of Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace) a gypsy reader of tarot cards–whose life he saves. Since the character is played by the original Lisbeth Salander she manages to get her own share of ass-kicking in.
So this is how it goes with A Game Of Shadows—fairly exciting and well-choreographed action sequences punctuated by some truly risible attempts at humour or narrative stock-taking.
After the end credits roll it becomes painfully clear that this sequel is really just a second serving of all the bits that worked in the first movie. Right down to that slow motion ‘gun backfires and causes tremendous blowback’ effect.
I’m not complaining, it is still fun to watch.
But I wish there was more.
While the idea of a kicking, punching, wise-cracking version of literature’s most famous detective was novel, and therefore exciting the first time, it really is less satisfying to watch him calculate the moves in a fist fight this time around.
Also, the banter. It just doesn’t work. If the filmmakers were attempting to further the notion that Holmes and Watson were more than just roommates and co-adventurers with sly innuendo and lines like, “Come lie with me Watson,” all it serves to do is slow the film down.
Jared Harris and Jude Law deliver but Mr. Downey seems hell-bent on chewing up all available scenery every time he’s on screen. Which would have been alright if his character wasn’t so darned mopey this time around.
Also—and I realize how weird this will read—the entire film feels like it is framed just two ticks too close. Some of the action beats are tough to follow because of how close the camera seems to be to it all. As a result, we don’t really feel like we’re in the thick of the action and we don’t also get a sense of who’s doing what to whom. I found myself wishing for a smaller screen at different parts in the film, so that I could better appreciate what was going on.
That said, the film isn’t without its charms. Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft is one of them. The design of all the steampunk-inspired gadgetry is another plus. To catch little asides (like a sign announcing the construction of what is commonly recognized as ‘The Tube’, or Holmes’s temporary resemblance to Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker) is a fun distraction. That extremely slow-motion chase through the forest with large projectiles raining down upon the stars is also fun to watch.
I wish the filmmakers didn’t have so many misguided ideas about what was ‘fun’ about the previous film. Because, in attempting to recreate those moments they’ve sucked some of the enjoyment out of this sequel.