Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film Sherlock Holmes proved to be a financial success, making an estimated $524,028,679 worldwide. It was therefore only natural that a sequel would be made. However, while the general populace found enjoyment from the action-adventure romp, the essential and characteristic mystery/detective elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novels were lost in its ‘Hollywoodisation’. Ritchie’s sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, offers more of the action-hero visualisation of the British icon, but suffers from a lack of solidity and further misplaces the quintessential notions of the source material.
The film follows Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) as Europe descends into political chaos after a wave of extremist attacks and assassinations. They decipher that Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) is central to the conflict, and attempt to thwart his diabolical schemes. As a sequel, Game of Shadows is more of the same; explosions, fights and banter. However its plot lacks the substance and charm which its predecessor marginally established. Instead, it ramps up the action and abandons any thread of engaging and competent narrative. First and foremost this is an action/adventure film, and to its credit it has some enjoyable set pieces. Fight choreography is sophisticated and intense, while shootouts are punchy and immersive. But Ritchie’s story, which is loosely based on the events of Doyle’s novels ‘The Final Problem’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’, as well as the lacklustre screenplay both fail to add any context to the domineering warfare. The mysterious and cryptic elements of the first film and the source material are lost amongst the generic structure, wildly fluctuating pacing and underwhelming story.
Sherlock Holmes himself comes across more as the Bond/superhero character rather than the Bohemian forensic detective. The symbolic dispassionate, arrogant personality and his powers of deduction are portrayed through Downey Jr.’s over-the-top performance and the shallow screenplay. But his perfect ability to predict the unpredictable in a ‘spidey-sense’ manner is undeniably inane. The screenplay also tamely constructs the essential relationship between Holmes and Watson, unfortunately never progressing from witty banter. These flaws linger into the majority of the film’s dialogue, resulting in either futile back-and-forth wisecracking or monotonous monologues that conveniently churn out exposition.
The performances themselves are competent but nothing spectacular. Robert Downey Jr. continues his quirky, exuberant character that would spontaneously combust if he were to stand still. His shaky accent and maniac behaviour persist in the contemporary vision of Doyle’s creation and is still entertaining in small doses. Jude Law remains restrained and likeable, but Jared Harris’s Moriarty never captures the mysterious and sinister character of Holmes’ primary antagonist, becoming more of a throwaway villain. The final showdown manages to eventually convey the mental sparring between the two intellects, but bewilderingly whittles down to a confusing ‘psychic’ duel and an immensely sub-standard climax. Harris doesn’t impress nor offend, but a better script would definitely have resolved this issue. The incessantly irritating Stephen Fry makes a pointless appearance as Holmes’ brother Mycroft, and ironically highlights the mysterious lack of Britishness in Downey Jr.’s Holmes. Meanwhile the frivolous inclusion of Noomi Rapace as leading lady Sim, lacks character development and more importantly, contextual purpose. She’s merely a plot device to move the film along and as a result her storyline peters out in the film’s finale.
Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot returns and consequently so too does the grey and gritty colour palette. The lack of lighting manages to capture the gloomy setting of late nineteenth century London, but when Paris, Switzerland and Germany are all devoid of visual atmosphere, everything starts to look the same. Meanwhile the use of head-tracking camera shots, CSI-esque “deductions” and slow-motion, while they looked impressive the first time, restlessly grace the screen at every opportunity. Action set-pieces are edited and cut far too quickly and shot too intimately to do justice to the well-calculated sequences. The production values are there, but aren’t employed constructively or measuredly.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows will please those who loved the first installment. Explosions and shootouts provide mild enjoyment, but when the whole experience is tainted by a uninspired narrative and a lack of depth, it becomes short-lived and tedious.