I was asked whether or not I would do a review of this film, but it took me a few weeks to get around to it. My love for Sherlock Holmes is endless, for any version of him. I adored the stories growing up and I have them all in a volume by my bed. I’ve seen many of the old fashioned movies, and I was ecstatic to see the Sherlock BBC series and the updated 2009 film from Guy Ritchie. Needles to say, I’m a Holmes buff. So did Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows live up to the first film, or did I think the same way about it that most of the critics seem to? Both. We’ll get into that below. Spoilers ahoy!

This movie is supposed to take place relatively soon after the first one. It skips enough time for John Watson (Jude Law) to plan his wedding to Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), so the movie begins on the day before their nuptials. Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is one of the first people to be seen, and she wittily banters with Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) as they usually do. She is delivering an explosive package from her employer, Professor Jim Moriarty (Jared Harris). Sherlock is convinced all these sudden bombings around France and Germany is an intentional plan by Moriarty, although he cannot prove any of it. He refuses to give up on his conspiracy theory web, which leads Moriarty to make it clear he plans on making Watson suffer the consequences. Sherlock has to interrupt the honeymoon while the couple are on a train to Brighton. Mary is tossed literally out of the train and taken care of by Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry). The partners must team up one more time to stop the nefarious Professor from starting another world war. They get involved with gypsies, have cannons shot at them, flirt outrageously, and travel around Europe solving crimes. You know, the usual.

So the major criticisms I’ve heard about the movie are aimed at the high level of action. People typically see Sherlock as a detective first and an action hero … well, last. That was commented upon in the first movie, although the action is definitely pumped up about three levels for this one. I’ll admit I think they sacrificed some of the brilliance of him as a detective in order to have a lot of explosions and gun fights. They went over his eccentric nature, and his ability to figure out fights in slow motion, and he started the conspiracy theory from his mind in the first place. This didn’t feel as much as a detective/mystery story. At least half of it is running from bullets and bombs. I think that is a legitimate criticism. Did it really lower my enjoyment of the movie? Nah. I still had tons of fun. I will say I prefer the TV series Sherlock because the majority of it does focus on the mystery and his skills as an eccentric detective. But to make a blockbuster movie you’ve got to appeal to a wider audience, and this was coming out around the holidays. Of course it had to be big and expensive and flashy.

Here’s why I still enjoyed it: the actors. Oh the actors. Every negative review of this movie still acknowledges that Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are so much fun to watch that it doesn’t matter what the movie is about. I agree completely. They have such comedic timing and genuine affection between them; you believe these are two men who have been through a lot together. They’re an odd couple, but you have to really connect to their friendship in order to believe the film as a whole. Rachel McAdams is in it very briefly, and so is Kelly Reilly. The female protagonist is Noomi Rapace as the gypsy Sizma, and she is famous for the Swedish version of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Critics say she is bland here, and I do not disagree. They did not give her a great deal to work with. She served her purpose, but she wasn’t witty enough to keep up with either of the leads and that is more due to the writers than the actress. Stephen Fry was odd as Mycroft, I’m not sure what they were going for with him other than Stephen Fry being silly and fun, but you know, that’s all you need sometimes. A big shout out has to go to Jared Harris who takes on the big part of Jim Moriarty. He is menacing and urbane and arrogant, just like Sherlock. He is Sherlock’s equal and arch nemesis, and I think Harris did a good job. Perhaps I would’ve liked a little more personality from him too other than ‘smug and evil,’ but it wasn’t like the first film was known for its intricate villain either. I guess I expected a little more out of Moriarty.

To wrap up though, here’s the general questions I get and my answers.

Is this movie better than the first one? I would say no. They tried to go bigger and better, and they accomplished the first but not really the last. They crammed too much in it. They go to France and Germany and Switzerland and there’s action action action action. I felt it wasn’t so much a Sherlock Holmes story as a let’s put this blockbuster in the Sherlock Holmes setting.

Did I still enjoy it? Absolutely. I love the actors, the set pieces are gorgeous, the action is very well done even if there’s too much of it, and I was definitely interested in what they were doing. They didn’t dumb down things to the audience either. You really had to pay attention to get the intricacies of the story. So well done for them to trust the viewers to follow along. There was a lot of exposition, but it wasn’t easy exposition. I could tell because my father spent half the movie asking me what they were talking about and what was happening and who was that.

Will I enjoy it? Probably. If you already love Sherlock Holmes and you go into it wanting to have a fun romp and watch RDJ and Jude Law being hilarious, have at it. This is a much more serious film than the first one with plenty of death and devastation left behind, so it’s not all shallow. You probably see the ending coming a mile away if you already love the stories and recognize “The Final Problem.” I think if you go in with the right attitude, you’ll come out happy. If you want to compare it to what’s come in the past, or what your expectations were, you probably will come out dissatisfied. It’s not the best Sherlock Holmes story ever told, but it’s an entertaining one.

Any suggestions for the writers? Not like they’d ever see this, but less is more. The first one was much better balanced between mental games and action sequences, and you clearly are capable of doing that. Also if you’re going to have some very strong actors in the movie outside of the main two, give them more character than ‘gypsy chick with blank expression’ and ‘smarmy evil guy muahahah.’ I believe in you! Otherwise, it’s fun to see Sherlock Holmes on the big screen and reaching a wider audience, so I can forgive you guys a lot.  I would see the third one if it’s coming.

Final Grade: B

  1. Yay, you saw it. It really is all about RDJ and Jude Law. I could watch those two together forever. If they haven’t already, I hope they announce the third one soon.

    You’re so right, for a movie like this you have to go in with the mindset that it’s a Guy Ritchie blockbuster. It’s going to be big, loud, and a little dumb. But totally entertaining. Maybe 10-15 years from now we’ll get the “reboot” and something more of a mystery-thriller-detective take on Sherlock. I’m all for it!

    Despite being underused, I still liked Noomi Rapace…and her outfits cause I’m shallow like that.

    I desperately want to watch the BBC Sherlock series but I am incapable of multi-fandom-tasking. So for now, I’m avoiding your posts for fear of spoilers…though it’s very tempting.


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