Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows is a sequel to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, which starred Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law. It’s set in Victoria London, as opposed to Moffat’s retelling on television, and focuses on some of the earthier aspects of Holmes. His physical prowess is played up, for example, and his relationship with Watson is less staid than it is often portrayed.
The first film had its moments, but was largely unfulfilling. The second movie, sadly, continues in much of the same vein. Holmes is brilliant but there is precious little explanation of his deductions, rather a focus on his observation (picking up details that make the solution obvious are far less fun than actually using them as evidence that you still have to draw conclusions from and extrapolate) and a lot of scenes played for laughs. He is shown as a master planner, an acute observer, but not so much the detective.
The plot, such as it is, focuses on Europe on the brink of war. This seems to be a staple of adventures set in the late Victorian era and is, to my knowledge, broadly accurate. It doesn’t, however, stop it being a cliché and makes the villain’s motives rather predictable. Holmes, naturally, is attempting to prevent the conflict by thwarting the schemes of Moriarty. Moriarty doesn’t really strike me as particularly Machiavellian or psychotic in this, rather coming across as someone focused on minutae and rather pedestrian. It seems a waste.
There are, however, a few things that redeem the film. Firstly, the interplay between Downey and Law is enjoyable. Secondly, Downey is eminently watchable. Law makes for a far more capable Watson than we are sometimes shown, and his exertions actually form an important part of the overall plot.
And then there is the sequence in the munitions/weapons factory and the woods. It’s an honest to god well orchestrated action scene that manages to marry Holmes being one step ahead, Watson being surprisingly capable, slow motion action that is well orchestrated, a very real sense of risk and high stakes, destruction, aesthetics and special effects. One of my complaints about action films is how little most of them seem to have learned from the Matrix. Here’s a climatic set piece that borrows slow motion, moving cameras and infuses it with grace and excitement at the same time.
Unfortunately, one rather good set piece aside, A Game of Shadows is underwhelming and definitely doesn’t really appeal on an intellectual level. It passes the time but doesn’t really deserve the heritage of the Holmes name.