December 15, 2011 by Vinnie Leduc
Director Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, an action-mystery that strayed considerably from his usual fare of often bloody and brutal British crime (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch; RocknRolla), became his biggest box office hit. It also further solidified Robert Downey, Jr.’s comeback and ability to carry a blockbuster as the titular lead and proved that Iron Man wasn’t a fluke. Hell, it was even nominated for a couple of Academy Awards, but don’t get too excited because they were the Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction.
So it should be no surprise that Hollywood was licking its lips to make a sequel. It’s less than two years later now, and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is already here. But should you take the case and play the iconic literary figure’s new game? If you enjoyed the first movie like I did, then yes.
Like its predecessor, there’s nothing too elementary about A Game of Shadows. Most of the original’s strengths have returned. Downey, Jr.’s back in his Golden Globe-winning role as the hyper-observant detective/scientist, and Jude Law’s got his back again as Watson, the perturbed-but-nevertheless-loyal doctor/gambler/war veteran. And of course, the back-and-forth banter that defines their dangerously gay marriage-like relationship is back, too.
New addition Noomi Rapace, from the original Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, isn’t given much opportunity to shine. Most of the previous cast makes an appearance, but A Game of Shadows‘ Professor Moriarty, Sherlock’s famed archnemesis throughout literature and film, doesn’t hold a candle to Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood in the original. Employing keen observation and encyclopedic science to track and debunk Blackwood’s black magic was a delightful experience to watch, so it’s difficult to follow that now, especially when it’s been replaced by a relatively generic evil plan you’d expect from a hackneyed Bond villain.
The result in A Game of Shadows is something that feels one step slower or behind compared to the previous entry. This includes the mile-a-minute dialogue (I surprisingly felt like I didn’t really need subtitles, with British accents, no less), the writing’s sharp wit, and Hans Zimmer’s banjo-centric score. It would’ve been nicer and more accessible to new audiences if A Game of Shadows was more of a stand-alone film that featured Sherlock exclusively focused on a single case, like a TV episode, while also rewarding returning viewers. But instead it’s more of a serial continuation of the first film.
I suppose that’s still fine because this sequel is still a good movie even as it meets the typical obligations of most blockbuster sequels: BIGGER and MORE. The twisty mystery tale offers crazier wood-splintering slow-mo explosions, one of the visual highlights of the first movie, but I won’t spoil anything else beyond that. Despite decelerating in the middle, the last half hour is worth the wait and overall leaves you with a satisfying case of theatrical brain-poking pleasure. Come for the new Batman trailer, and stay for the actual movie. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows gets 3 out of 5 stars or B- or Good.