My friend, Dave, had his birthday last week. We went to go see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Despite enjoying the hell out of the first movie, I couldn’t help but feel like this one might end up being a disappointment.
It’s not as bad as I had feared . . . but there are definitely some problems. And I kind of want to slap Guy Ritchie in the face.
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to stop Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) from succeeding in his dastardly plans to destroy the entire world! (Or something.) Watson (Jude Law) and Sim (Noomi Rapace) assist. (Er, assist Sherlock, that is.)
1. A Game of Shadows is entertaining enough—it’s not a horrible movie, certainly, and there are some scenes I really enjoyed—but it does seem to suffer from a lot of missed opportunities.
I love Stephen Fry (well, who doesn’t) and he’s entertaining here, to a point, but . . . he’s given nothing to really do. His whole character feels kind of shoved into the movie, like the writers were all, Hey, Sherlock has a brother, right? We should so totally include him in the sequel . . . except that once he showed up in the story, nobody had any idea what to do with him. I’m all for a slightly odd, clothes-optional Mycroft Holmes, but he could have been so much more engaging. I mean, I was dying to see the exchanges between Robert Downey Jr. and Stephen Fry, but they had maybe, what? Six minutes of screen time together? Seven? I was kind of disappointed.
For the most part, I like Harris’s portrayal of Moriarty . . . there are times where I feel it becomes a bit more cartoonish than I would like, but then again, those are usually the moments where I’m wincing more at the glaringly obvious dialogue than the actual delivery of those lines . . . but I kind of wanted Professor M to be more . . . villainous, I suppose? I like the chemistry between Harris and Downey Jr., and there are some great scenes between the two of them, but all the same, this guy’s supposed to be the big Arch-Nemesis. Crafty and super-smart, I buy, but evil with a capital E? Eh . . . I wasn’t entirely convinced.
As a kick-ass gypsy chick? Yeah, I totally buy Rapace. I was cheering her on during one fight scene in particular, and I’d like to see the actress do more things now that I’ve seen this film. (I haven’t seen the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo yet.) But honestly, Sim’s storyline is dumber than Mycroft’s and, unfortunately, it’s also far more important to the plot. (Or should be.) Rapace isn’t really given much to do other than tag along with Sherlock and Watson for most of the film, and let’s be honest here: we all know who we’re shipping for in that scenario, don’t we? Sim doesn’t stand a chance.
2. Speaking of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson . . .
Their bromance is easily the best part of this movie.
Seriously, there are all these little moments in A Game of Shadows between the two of them I just enjoy. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law still have wonderful chemistry, and while the plot may manage to be both vastly over-complicated and meander, I completely buy their relationship and enjoy watching them on screen. Even in excessive slow-motion.
3. I feel like Guy Ritchie must have watched the first Sherlock Holmes after it was finished and thought to himself, You know, I think I made this movie too subtle. People can’t tell this is a Guy Ritchie film. I need people to know the sequel is a GUY RITCHIE FILM.
The thing is, Sherlock Holmes is about as subtle as a brick to the face. Which is okay—I really do like the film—but if that movie is a brick, this sequel is a fucking battering ram. There may be more explosions than dialogue in this film. Or maybe it just feels like that because almost every single explosion is done in slow-motion. And here’s the tricky thing about slow-motion: if you overuse it, your kickass action movie will actually start to seem, you know, slow. You can only watch a tree splinter into pieces so many times before you’re like, Jesus, you blew up the woods, WE GET IT. Can we finally have a new scene now? For Christ’s sake, Ritchie.
And while I normally enjoy how Ritchie shoots fight scenes, and I’m all about a director having a visual signature . . . this movie looks like Guy Ritchie’s aesthetic just threw up all over itself. Some scenes are so over the top that they feel like B movie cheese. And while we’re clearly not supposed to take this movie too seriously . . . I do think we’re supposed to think it’s a step up over films like, oh, Drive Angry.
4. It’s hard to go into details without Spoilers . . . honestly, it might be kind of hard to explain with Spoilers . . . but the plot of this movie is sort of not-that-good. Like many big, twisty conspiracy stories, it feels convoluted and contrived at parts and sprawling and ill-conceived overall. A good mystery ought to be tight, you know? It ought to be closely plotted. Of course, the first movie was a little all over the place too, but it’s even worse in A Game of Shadows. It kind of makes you wish Holmes was just, you know, solving a regular murder or something. Isn’t that what he’s paid to do?
5. Someday, when a hero and his nemesis meet, they are going to play a deeply symbolic game of checkers for once. Just once.
6. I forgot to mention that I like Mary (Kelly Reilly), Watson’s wife.
She’s not a big part in this—she may have even less screen time than in the last movie—but I still like her a lot. She does a good job balancing badass moments while seeming like a real person.
7. Finally: “Follow my lead” sounds easy enough, but if you don’t know the steps to a dance, it’s going to be pretty obvious when you’re stumbling after your partner. This isn’t highly plot relevant or anything. I just felt the need to throw it out there. Follow my lead is not the same as dance lessons, people.
There’s a lot I haven’t talked about, but most of what I want to say involves spoiler content. If you don’t mind being spoiled, continue onward.
You may have noticed that I’ve said nothing so far about Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) in this review. That’s because she’s around for about ten minutes before promptly being killed off. This might be more surprising if she’d been featured in the previews for more than a second, or if Noomi Rapace wasn’t in this movie as Lead Girl. As is . . . I don’t mind, exactly, that Adler’s murdered (I think McAdams is one of the weaker parts of the first Sherlock Holmes film, actually) but the way it’s done . . . it’s another one of those missed opportunities I was talking about earlier. I mean, I like how Moriarty can just tap his glass and clear a whole restaurant, leaving no witnesses, but the fact that they wait half the movie to definitively reveal that she’s toast just seems silly. And normally killing off the lead love interest would be kind of bold . . . but like I said, I was kind of expecting her death, so I just couldn’t work up much of an emotional reaction to it.
Anyway, after Adler bites the big one, Sherlock tries to figure out Moriarty’s nefarious plans. He proves to be a predictably terrible best man when he ruins Watson’s bachelor party so that he can save Sim from being killed off by assassins. (Actually, Sim’s kind of awesome here and delivers two would-be-death blows to the bad guy . . . if only the script didn’t demand that Sherlock, in the end, be the hero of the scene and finish the assassin off himself.)
Sherlock eventually gets Watson to his wedding, and they have a nice little silent moment between the two of them before they go inside the church. Then, Sherlock leaves to have a chat with Moriarty. He wants to declare Watson and Mary off limits, but the Professor’s like, “Um, I’m the bad guy. I can try and kill whoever I want. Oh, and by the by, I totally murdered your love interest from the last movie. I’m evil!”
Sherlock rushes off to save Watson and Mary from being murdered while taking the train to their honeymoon spot. Mary has a nice moment of awesome here, right before Sherlock tosses her ass off the train. (It’s okay. She lives.) Watson has quite the little spectacular hissy fit, and he and Holmes engage in some suggestive fighting before getting off the train themselves and joining up with Sim again.
This is about where the plot becomes less . . . well . . . plot-like, and more like an endless series of chase scenes and explosions. Sherlock, Watson, and Sim try to stop Moriarty’s schemes while also trying to figure out what the big endgame is. At one point, Moriarty captures Sherlock and is tormenting him (and me) with a ‘who is the fish and who is the fisherman’ metaphor. I mean, I kind of enjoy that Sherlock is literally being impaled with a large fish hook at the time, but the dialogue kills me, and not in the good way. Besides, every time Moriarty swings Sherlock around on the hook, I couldn’t stop thinking, Wait . . . isn’t this something a henchman should be doing? It seems slightly incongruous to the classy archnemesis we’ve been hearing so much about, all this menial labor.
Watson saves Sherlock by collapsing a building on top of him. (It’s ridiculous, but it’s also kind of awesome.) He then saves Sherlock’s life with something that’s akin to adrenaline but what I’m choosing to call the Foreshadow Drug instead because that’s how skillfully the mystery drug is introduced. Like, they should just write FORESHADOW on the syringe itself and get it over with. Mind you, I enjoy the scene where Watson revives Sherlock. (I particularly like watching Watson beat his friend’s body up.) It’s just that you’re patiently waiting for his mini-breakdown to be over so that he can remember the miracle cure that’s still resting in his pocket.
They figure out that Moriarty wants to start a World War by using Sim’s brother, Rene, to assassinate someone at this big deal summit thing. Holmes, Watson, and Sim go to stop the assassination from taking place, but Rene’s hard to spot because his face has been altered significantly via plastic surgery. Holmes leaves his compatriots the task of finding Rene, while he goes to play chess with Moriarty. It sounds like a dick move, but it’s actually kind of sweet, in a way. Holmes trusts Watson to find Rene on his own. (Although, technically, he’s not on his own, is he? Well, women don’t count, I guess. Sim is barely a character, anyway.)
Typically, the chess game is not just a chess game at all, but symbolic. Watson is Holmes’s bishop. Rene is Moriarty’s. Watson and Sim find Rene and stop him from killing anyone. Unfortunately, Moriarty’s Awesome Right-Hand Man kills Rene. A few points about this:
1. Moriarty’s Awesome Right-Hand Man is, as you might have guessed, awesome. His reaction to Watson using a cannon earlier to try and kill him: “That’s not fair.” Love. He also is just great at what he does, namely, killing people in like two seconds, which leads me to conclude that this whole crazy plot with the anarchists and Rene and everything else, it’s all entirely unnecessary. Why doesn’t Awesome Right-Hand Man just kill this dude that Moriarty wants dead? It wouldn’t be that hard to frame someone else for the job. It certainly wouldn’t be any harder than grabbing some random gypsy anarchist, giving him massive facial reconstruction surgery, and then turning him into an assassin for the day.
2. I do believe that Moriarty’s Awesome Right-Hand Man survives all of this. Good for him. Sometimes, I like it when the bad guys make it.
Back on point now. Holmes is smug because Watson stopped the assassination attempt. Then Moriarty is smug because he knows the world war is going to happen anyway. And then Holmes is smug again because Holmes has secretly bankrupted Moriarty, or something like that. Moriarty becomes considerably less smug.
Which leads us to probably my favorite scene in the whole movie: Holmes starts predicting the way the fight will go, as Holmes is wont to do. Then Moriary interrupts with his own voiceover. “You’re not the only one who can play this game.” (Or something like that. I couldn’t find the exact quote online.) The whole mental battle that follows is just awesome. The chess stuff was okay, sure, but this is ten times more exciting than chess.
Holmes and Professor M both realize that there is only one inevitable conclusion of this battle: Moriarty wins. “Unless.” Sherlock pulls Moriarty over the side of the balcony and they both fall over a bazillion feet in the air to their supposed doom. Watson comes outside just in time to see this. The expression on his face . . . or rather, the almost lack of expression on his face . . . it’s just the perfect ending to this scene.
So, of course Ritchie promptly ruins this two seconds later with a ridiculous shot of Sherlock and Moriarty falling through the air to a watery grave below. It’s . . . it’s awful. The whole thing—the slow motion, the bad CGI, the expression on Moriarty’s face—it’s just so cartoonish and silly that it immediately takes you out of the moment.
At the end of the film, Watson and Mary are about to finally go on their honeymoon. Watson is a bit mopey about his best mate being dead. (When he tells Mary that Sherlock would want them to go on their vacation, Mary awesomely says that no, Sherlock would want to go with them. I love Mary.) Watson then gets a package with Mycroft’s “breathing device” in it, cluing us into how Sherlock survived. And . . . look, it’s not like I was expecting realism from this movie or anything, but come on. I knew Sherlock was going to survive, obviously—you don’t have to know anything about “The Final Problem” or the other Sherlock stories to know that—but this movie just made Harrison Ford’s leap in The Fugitive look downright probable in comparison.
Anyway, Watson runs out of the room, and Sherlock appears suddenly—his urban camouflauge is one of the running gags in the film—and that’s about where the movie ends. At least it’s less abrupt than how the first movie ends.
Enjoyable enough movie and some awesome bromance material—but underused characters, missed opportunities, and poor stylistic choices hamper the film as a whole.
Robert Downey Jr.? Maybe? I’m honestly not sure.
Sometimes, you have to trust your intellectually inferior friends to avert disaster.