Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

by Tom Ingram

OK, so 2009’s Sherlock Holmes had a somewhat more actiony tone than Doyle’s original stories, but nothing was invented ex nihilo—just exaggerated. Most of the people who criticized it clearly were not familiar with the source material. The adaptation could have been more faithful, but director Guy Ritchie struck a good balance between the demands of Hollywood and Baker Street. The sequel is pretty much more of the same. If you liked the first Sherlock Holmes, you’ll probably like this one, and if you didn’t, you’ll almost certainly hate this one even more.

The movie opens with a disguised Holmes following Irene Adler, who summons minions to fight him. The slo-mo fight preplanning returns from the first movie. I thought it was a bad device in the original, and it’s certainly overused in the sequel, but there is an interesting scene where Holmes’s fight plan is upset by a knife-throwing gypsy. The disguises, which only appeared a couple of times in the original and were carefully handled, are also overdone. At every turn the filmmakers try to turn Robert Downey, Jr. into a woman, a rabbi, or a bellhop, and it gets ridiculous.

Stephen Fry appears as Mycroft Holmes, an inspired casting choice. But there’s one pointless scene of him wandering around his house naked while Mrs. Watson is staying with him that serves only as an in-joke about Fry’s sexuality. And while the romantic chemistry between Downey and Law is true to the stories and was put to good and subtle use in the original film, here it’s just belaboured.

The shipyard scene from the first movie is dwarfed by the several action bits in the sequel. While Sherlock Holmes did deal with wars and attempts to start them (including World War I), he was never on the front lines crawling through forests like Rambo. They start off a little overboard, and only get bigger as the movie wears on.

All that said, almost everything that was good about the first movie is still here. I didn’t enjoy Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as much, but it’s still smarter than most blockbusters and more exciting than most literary adaptations. If you can put up with a few karate fight scenes amid the deerstalking, it’s well worth it.

The new Men in Black movie is probably worth seeing, but without Tommy Lee Jones playing a prominent role (as the trailer seems to indicate), what’s the point? Wikipedia says that the new movie will have Josh Brolin as a young Agent K, Emma Thompson as Agent O, and someone named “Etan Cohen” writing the script (I’m reminded of a pair of SQNY headphones my brother once bought).

In keeping with recent trends, we have a darker and edgier update of Jack and the Beanstalk coming soon. This is the kind of thing our generation will be mocked for, twenty years from now.

As for Batman, I fear that Nolan might be going overboard with “bigness”. At least it’s the last film in the series. If he can restrain himself even a little bit, he’ll probably hit it out of the park even if he can’t recreate The Dark Knight (which is too much to hope for). If not, at least we won’t see another one.