The first Sherlock Holmes movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the famed detective and Jude Law as Dr. Watson, began with a startling bullet-time sequence that made Holmes feel more like an action hero than a detective. The cerebral sleuth exchanged deduction for Downey wit to marginal success.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the sequel to the 2009 film, hit theaters a year after showrunners Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat reminded us just what a real Sherlock story was all about. BBC’s Sherlock series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson, was a mesmerizing tale that dissected the very essence of Holmes and implanted it into the modern world. Sadly, after Cumberbatch put his stamp on Holmes, watching Downey Jr. reprise the role is more akin to a comedic spoof than a detective story. Mad Men star Jared Harris joined the cast of A Game of Shadows as Holmes’ arch nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. While Harris gives a strong performance, the film’s humor overshadows any sense of intrigue and the heart of scientific observation that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle imbued in his character.
A Game of Shadows begins with a similar start to the first movie. Viewers get a bullet time sequence, showing off Holmes Matrix-like approach to hand-to-hand combat. He even stops to catch an apple mid-fight, turning the already comical scene into a living cartoon. Rachel McAdams returns as Irene Adler, giving viewers a familiar face before the story shifts its attention to Professor James Moriarty. The first scene with Moriarty is a show of power, rather than intelligence. He clears a restaurant with three taps on a glass so that he can have a private conversation. On a positive note, the film doesn’t jump right into the supernatural as the first one did. It’s grounded in the one-on-one battle between Holmes and Moriarty, respectful academic adversaries.
Director Guy Ritchie uses a similar format to the first film. Deduction doesn’t come into play until the final moments of the film to serve as a reminder that you were just watching the greatest detective in Britain. Unfortunately, by that time, you’re already thinking that you were watching a paper-thin action movie. There are several fun moments that arise from the bromance between Holmes and Watson. When Holmes is first reunited with Watson, we see that he is jealous of the Doctor’s engagement to Mary (Kelly Reilly). After Mary and John are married, Holmes takes a little too much joy in ruining their honeymoon even though it is to save their lives.
It would be a fun tale if it weren’t a Holmes story. As it stands, you’re expecting to be challenged mentally, but instead it’s a mental challenge to accept the conclusion. It’s similar to Ocean’s 12, where the last twenty minutes are spent explaining what took place during the movie and why Holmes is regarded as intelligent and not merely a cross-dressing fighter who likes to cause trouble.
Warner utilizes the Maximum Movie Mode for this Sherlock Holmes film, giving you an interactive journey through the movie, hosted by Downey Jr. You can also watch each of the Focus Points outside of the MMM mode, but you’ll lose some of the narration and storyboards.