Guest Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Hello all, today’s review comes courtesy of Andy from the blog Ramblings of A Minnesota Movie Geek. Isn’t that an awesome name or what? Andy is a self-confessed geek in every sense of the word. Need proof? Well, he signs off his email with ‘May the Force Be With You’ 😀 He’s currently consumed by his TV watching, but when he did have time for some movies, he’s kind enough to send me a review to share with all you fine FlixChatter readers, so here you go:

Sherlock squaring off against Moriarty. Now that premise alone sold my ticket. This is Moriarty, ladies and gentlemen, Sherlock’s dark reflection, the one man who is just as clever as him, if not more, always one or more steps ahead of the ‘game’, merciless, brilliant. Any tale that has these two locked in intellectual (and eventual physical) battle should be something extraordinary. Ultimately, A Game of Shadows doesn’t quite reach that. In fact, the movie doesn’t seem entirely concerned with the story at all, which is good news for fans of the Sherlock/Watson banter which is given the classic sequel ‘more more more’ treatment, but is detrimental to the overall quality of the film. I wanted Sherlock vs. Moriarty, a battle of the minds as they constantly try to outsmart the other, and I wanted a real sense of jeopardy to every action – hell, every scene, because that’s what a Moriarty story deserves.

A Game of Shadows has plenty of moments of fun, loads of them. The much loved Sherlock and Watson relationship that was so central, no doubt, in making the first film hugely successful, is greatly expounded upon with delicious results. No exaggeration: Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law’s chemistry and complete bromance rules this movie every second they’re together. And rightfully so. In summary with those two, Sherlock and Watson are handled perfectly here. The filmmakers having their friendship down, but they’re not the ones who make Game of Shadows a movie that I was really, really, really looking forward to. No, that was – in case you couldn’t tell – the sinister mastermind Moriarty, and he arrives in the Hollywood ‘reimagined’ world with mixed results.

Jared Harris as Moriarty was good, he was solid, but he wasn’t great. That’s not to fault Harris, I feel, but instead the script. Harris portrays Moriarty with that cool, calm, restrained demeanor, very much in control of his emotions, his words, all his faculties. Plus Harris just looks like a man who has this wide web of a plot in his noggin’. But the script doesn’t allow Moriarty to come across as anything uber-spectacular (except the final Sherlock/Moriarty confrontation, which is nothing short of extraordinary and one of my favorite scenes of 2011), or rather, a force to be reckoned with. At one point, Moriarty breaches cliché, as he tortures one of our protagonists while singing along with classical opera. It’s not creepy or unnerving as the filmmakers may have intended, unfortunately. With the right script, Jared Harris could make the Moriarty of our generation. But for now, I’ll settle with a really, really good one.

To continue the ‘more, more, more’ vibe of Hollywood sequels, director Guy Ritchie is sadly not immune to that trend. Slow motion is used far too frequently, and not always necessarily. That said, one instance of Ritchie using slow mo to great extent is the Sherlock vs. Moriarty face off before the climax, as the two adversaries size up what action they’re about to take. In the same way Ritchie gives us ‘Sherlock Vision’, where he anticipates his opponents moves and how he’ll respond accordingly, we have Moriarty utilize the same skills against Sherlock, making that final scene a tense one, as they both seem even matched. Ritchie’s style is now a trademark of the franchise, and overall, it works. It’s much of the same as the first one, so all I’ll say is that when the inevitable third one enters production, he tries to change it up a bit, give us something new.

Ultimately, where this movie falters is the screenplay. It’s the source of Moriarty’s lack of badassery, and also the source of making this movie not all that engaging and, dare I say, confusing. By the last two bits, I mean this: Sherlock Holmes stories are first and foremost mysteries. It’s the unraveling of these mysteries that drive Sherlock stories, that make them so damn fun to watch. The BBC series Sherlock understands this, and masterfully delivers equal weight of interesting mysteries and highly enjoyable Holmes/Watson scenes. As for A Game of Shadows, I spent more time wondering what the hell was going on and why the characters were doing what they were doing. The plot, and how Point A connects to Point B and that connects to Point C, it just all seemed lazily pieced together, almost like an afterthought. In the end, the strength of the Sherlock/Watson relationship made the lacking script sufferable. A second viewing of the movie some time ago helped clear a few of the plot-points up, but there was still that feeling of disinterest. Furthermore, the side of me that wanted a battle between Sherlock and Moriarty on a grand scale – well, what the writers came up with, didn’t so much deliver on that expectation.

You might have noticed neither the lovely ladies Noomi Rapace or Rachel McAdams have been mentioned thus far. Thing is, they’re hardly in the movie. One more than the other, but even then, she doesn’t make that much of an impact, sadly enough. This leads in to me saying Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is pretty damn decent entertainment. If what you’re looking for is to have a blast watching Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law banter back and forth and have some spectacular action-y adventures, this film absolutely delivers. If you, like me, wanted a battle royale of the minds between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, then it doesn’t fully deliver the goods. But what we have here is a movie very much in the same spirit as Sherlock Holmes (2009), with high points and low points, and if you even seminally liked that flick, you’re going to enjoy the hell out of this one. See y’all for the third one!

3 out of 5 reels

So have you seen this movie? Please do let us know what you think.

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21 thoughts on “Guest Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

  1. I liked this one more than the first installment. It took the more engaging elements of the first movie and focused on those and stopped trying to pretend it was a brainy Sherlock Holmes movie. I really liked what Ritchie did with the game of chess at the end. Now, if only the movie had ended 3 minutes earlier!

    1. Speaking about Sherlock and ‘brainy’, Castor, have you had a chance to watch the BBC SHERLOCK series? If your answer is no, drop what you’re doing and do so, pronto! Series 1 is on Netflix; three 90-minute episodes of awesomeness. Series 2 debuts in the States in May. Watch it and love it. 🙂

      How did you not like the last three minutes? Worked quite well, I think. Though, honestly, I didn’t expect that, let’s say, ‘epilogue’, I thought the film would have ended right there after the Moriarty/Sherlock um, endingness.

      1. Well, I thought the movie should have ended on that cliffhanger just because it’s the way the written material ends. We don’t need to see Sherlock being alive at the end, audiences aren’t stupid, they know that there is going to be a third installment and that of course, he must be alive.

    1. Thanks, Scott! The thing is, about the ‘better or worse than the first one’ bit, is that these movies are practically the same film, split into two. Ritchie and the crew and the cast kept the tone of the 09 film SO well, it really feels like SHADOWS is a continuation of SHERLOCK – vibe, tone, etc. That’s a rambly way of saying, I don’t think you can attribute better/worse to HOLMES 2009 and 2011, they’re basically the same time. There will be bits you may appreciate more in one and less than the other, but about it. Thanks again,mate!

  2. I really enjoyed the sequel. Though I did think the first one had more “class” and a much tighter screenplay. The sequel was pretty good. I didn’t mind the slight overkill of the slo-mo Guy Ritchie-ness all over this one. It didn’t bother me. Though, it didn’t necessarily add much.

    I do agree with you about Moriarty. He could have been so much more. I think Jared Harris has more bad assery in Fringe than he did here. Heck, even in Mad Men!

    1. “Though, it didn’t necessarily add much.” Completely agreed. If slow-mo is gonna be used loads, it needs to have a reason or at least be uniquely COOOOL each time it’s done, or it just becomes tedious.

      Jared Harris in FRINGE. My God, YES! I know Harris isn’t trying to go all Hannibal Lecter creepy-guy on us as Moriarty, but his turn as Jones in FRINGE is absolutely chilling. I gave up on MAD MEN. Is that bad of me? What season was Harris in?

  3. Ted S.

    I enjoyed the first movie but it’s not something I want to see again. I’ll probably give this sequel a rent someday.

    1. If you feel that way about HOLMES 2009, then yes, definitely worth a rental at the least. Hope you enjoy it. I think it hits DVD in April or May.

  4. Sam Fragoso

    There was a lack of “badassery” to be desired here.

    But like you said, the chemistry of the stars fueled this vehicle.

  5. I haven’t been extremely crazy about this series, but at least they seem to be having fun with it. My favorite Moriarty story on film has to be the one that isn’t even really considered canon. “Young Sherlock Holmes” from 1985 should be given a look for any fans of the character.

  6. Great review, Andy! My friend at work LOVES this movie. I like the first movie and enjoyed the fun bromance of RDJ and Jude, so yeah I’ll rent this one. Thanks for the guest post.

    1. Thanks, Ruth! It was fun to get with the guest writingness, I felt all important-like. 🙂

      With your enjoyment of the bromance, yeah, this movie was made for you. Like I said…er, somewhere….with every ounce of persuasiveness I can muster, watch watch watch watch BBC’s SHERLOCK. The bromance is there, but where these movies don’t succeed with the clever plotlines, the series MORE than makes up for it.

  7. Andy, you really summed up my feelings on the film. Great, well thought out review! Like you said, it really delivers in the areas of comedy and action, but as for calling itself Sherlock Holmes? It really falls flat. It isn’t a dueling on the minds, and the fault for that major no-no lies on the screenwriters. It’s not a great script, and while it fails to connect plot points, it also lacks that “Sherlock Holmes” ingredient to make it Sherlock Holmes. It plays itself funny without a thought of being intelligent, and that’s what made me disappointed after seeing it.

    1. Thanks, Kristin!

      If you want to talk about a nice summation of GAME OF SHADOWS, you pretty much hit it exactly right there…in waaaaayyy less words than me, haha. Agreed on all accounts.

      [And although I know we’re talking about GAME OF SHADOWS here, and I’ve already promoted it twice or four times on this page, watch BBC’s SHERLOCK. That “Sherlock Holmes” ingredient? Radiates every second of that show. Check it out!]

      1. Haha – it’s actually nice to hear that someone felt similarly. My sister and I were beyond frustrated that the movie held the title “Sherlock Holmes,” because it really wasn’t Sherlock Holmes portrayed – just RDJ with a funny accent, being hilarious as ever, but not SH.

        Thanks – I will definitely check it out! I think it might even be on Netflix. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. I was disappointed with Game of Shadows. It was a little to big for its boots. Jared Harris stood out for me as Morriarty though I had a hard time taking Noomi Rapace seriously (who in real looks NOTHING like she does in the movies by the way).

    1. Noomi isn’t drop dead gorgeous and kickass in real life? Dammmnn….

      I get where you’re coming from with the ‘too big for its boots’ thing. But if you’re going to have Sherlock vs. Moriarty, it HAS to be big, grand, epic in all ways concievable. What the writers conjured up to deliver that… yeah, didn’t feel it. Still interested in a Downey/Law/Ritchie third outing, though?

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