Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Release Review: Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie, 2011)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens in cinemas January 5th. It is the only film opening this week.

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master sleuth Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie's sequel to 2009's entertaining and successful film, Sherlock Holmes. The screenplay is penned by Kieran and Michele Mulroney and I believe is specifically influenced by Conan Doyle’s work, The Final Problem. This time Holmes and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) join forces to take down their most cunning adversary yet, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) – the man believed to be responsible for a series of murders, terrorist attacks and mysterious business acquisitions.

Guy Ritchie has tried to balance the problem solving and mystery elements of the stories, with plenty of slow-motion, and high-octane, heavily stylised and ludicrously edited action sequences. In the first film I thought the balance worked quite well. There was an intriguing story, which required Holmes’ super-sleuth expertise to unravel (and a big reveal at the end that tied up all of the loose ends), and an exciting dose of action. The humour worked, the bromance and banter between Holmes and Watson was cleverly written and utilised the charm of its stars well, with both Downey Jr. and Law perfectly cast and giving great performances. It's all much the same here. But.

Everything worked less effectively. The laughs are too reliant on the charms of the stars (and most of the jokes appear in the trailer), the story is convoluted, the villain is not as interesting (though Jared Harris was quite good, I never felt like Moriarty was particularly intimidating), and because there is a desire to keep the audience informed, the confusing elements of the plot are explained in several mini reveals. Rachel McAdams was miscast in the first film - and her subplot wasn't particularly interesting - but Noomi Rapace also has very little to do here. She plays a gypsy card reader swept along for the ride because her brother is believed to be tied to Moriarty. It's odd because it feels like the skills of Downey Jr. are somewhat wasted here, but none of the supporting cast are memorable either.

The back-and-forth banter between the duo remains, which makes things fun, but the prevalence of Holme's brutal scuffles and involvement in intense shootouts has increased. Following the halfway mark, the story loses some of its baggage and greatly improves, but by then the action sequences have grown tiring and the film's immense length (129 minutes) begins to make itself known. I would be surprised if any viewers who were displeased with Ritchie's vision for Sherlock Holmes will find anything to admire here. Fans of the original might also be disappointed by this messy sequel that gallops along at a directionless and nauseating pace, throwing in senseless shootouts, endless chase sequences, ludicrous disguises and Holmes revealing as fast as he can both how he intends to take down a foe, and his prior involvement in an unexpected series of events.

While the first one actually produced some surprises; it was fascinating to see the case come together, and was more focused on Holmes' problem-solving than his physical prowess (which I find to be unfathomably capable), this one seems to be committed to keeping the audience informed of the plot developments, which is necessary because it is often confusing - but also throws in a series of oddly-placed references. For example there is one occasion where Stephen Fry (who plays Sherlock's brother Mycroft) talks about marriage to a woman as being something ungodly, while Holmes' smeared lipstick in one scene makes him look uncannily like Heath Ledger's The Joker. The whole gag with the pony was also really forced - and it was something I perhaps forgave Ritchie's first film for, but it all just feels too cartoonish. Sure, we aren't meant to think too much into the ridiculousness of the plot and Guy Ritchie's goal is to give the Holmes mysteries a blockbuster appeal and entertain. It is fun at times, but with the exception of the climactic chess game (which was fantastic, but lost impact because it was the second film involving a face-off between the hero and villain by way of a chess game I saw that month - the other being Tower Heist) I found this to be a fairly average sophomore affair.

My Rating: ★★1/2 (C+)


  1. Great review, fully agree with you.
    Part 1 was a nice blend of amusing characters, witty jokes, and cool action.
    Part 2 is just too over-the-top and far too long. The action scenes are bland and the humour is often pretty annoying.
    A huge disappointment, NOT excited for SH3.

  2. I actually liked this one better than the first one. One has to accept that this is Guy Ritchie's vision of Sherlock Holmes and this is all style no substance. So the fact that this moving along at a more frenetic (and maybe chaotic?) pace is an improvement for me. I did feel Noomi Rapace was completely wasted and that the movie should have ended 2 minutes earlier.

  3. It's a shame, I found the first movie incredibly entertaining. Ah well, my expectations are never really high for sequels (aside from a few rare exceptions) but this one was always kinda iffy. I'll just won't raise my hopes when I see this one, haha. Nice review!

  4. I really liked it. Shame Noomi didn't get more to do but the first fight with her, Holmes and the Cossack assassin was good. Also loved the way the action is cut and filmed particularly when they were all running through those trees. The slow mo and camera movements are insane but much easier to follow than anything Michael Bay does. Then again am I comparing Bay and Ritchie? I'll go now... great review!

  5. @ Maynard − Yeah, i'm not anticipating SH3 at all. I thought some of the action scenes were exciting, but nothing on the train was part. interesting, and the film was relentlessly chaotic (almost out-of-control) and relied on Holmes' repeated explanations to assist a viewer through it all. I lost interest after a while, while the first film kept me pretty entertained.

    @ Castor - I understand that, but the chaos just got tiring after a while. Ritchie never seemed to be in control, and I felt like the film tried to take everything further (but utilising the same features successful in the first one) and it all felt a bit rehashed, but also far more confusing, and never as intriguing or exciting, or funny. I didn't laugh all that much (probably because I have seen the trailer a bunch of times) which was disappointing. Not a bad film, but not a part. good one either I thought.

    @ Ruth - I agree, the first one was great, and while there is some fun to be had here, it's not as frequent, and things get a bit silly there for a while, which wastes the talents involved. Too many skirmishes, and too much convenient problem solving. As smart as Holmes is, some of his tricks are just unbelievable.

    @ Pete - I'm glad you enjoyed it Pete. This is certainly a better film than Michael Bay makes - but I found the slow-mo stuff cool, but unnecessary and overused. Thanks for reading man.