Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a perfectly fun film if you can stop yourself from asking questions.
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are back once again as Holmes and Watson, and they’re just as effective in their roles as ever. Because of this it’s a shame to see that the script isn’t up to snuff. Anyone looking to see the movie because “Sherlock Holmes” is in the title will be disappointed to find nothing more than a silly popcorn action flick. Remember those crime scene investigations from the previous films? Guy Ritchie doesn’t.
A Game of Shadows is more interested in taking the National Treasure route of sprinting from location to location and having the quirky main character figure everything out just in time for the script to meet its explosion- or shootout-per-minute quota. Each scene is filled with flashy entertainment, but it all begins to unravel if you take the time to think about it afterward. The overarching plot pushes the movie forward, disregarding any character traits, motives, or logistics that would get in the way. Making sense of all this mess was not a priority.
The plot is centered around Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty (Jarred Harris) fighting it out in a deadly game of strategy. Moriarty has a grand evil scheme for self-profit and Holmes is out to stop him. But wait, what about Watson’s upcoming marriage? Don’t worry, that would get in the way of the plot so it’s simply tossed aside as a result of nonsensical actions by the supposed genius Moriarty (more detail in the spoiler zone if you’re curious).
Jarred Harris immediately proves to be a worthwhile addition to the film with his subdued yet sinister portrayal of Professor James Moriarty. One of the most frustrating things about all of the action is the knowledge that such things are getting in the way of having more Holmes and Moriarty scenes, which are easily the best parts of the story. The air never fails to grow thick with barbed words and double meanings.
Noomi Rapace did a fine job in the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but Shadows gives her nothing to do. Aside from a subtly funny moment where she trips up Sherlock Holmes’ usual way of pre-thinking combat encounters she has little to no impact on the plot. It feels like the Madam Simza Heron character was written into the script just so that there could be a female character that stands around and looks pretty in the background in most of the shots. Stephen Fry plays the similarly unimportant role of Holmes’ brother but at least managed to earn a few laughs.
Thankfully there is some good in there with all of the bad. A Game of Shadows is a perfectly serviceable action movie if viewed on a more shallow level. Fight scenes are interesting, there are plenty funny moments, and the climactic scene between Holmes and Moriarty is a lot of fun to watch. One particular scene in a forest features so many camera and slow motion tricks to marvel over that it’s almost worth the price of admission just to see on its own. There’s a good chance that your friends or family will want to see this with you, and you can have some good, forgettable fun if you can manage to ignore all of the stupid.
— SPOILER ZONE: A place for the reviewer to speak freely on plot points. —
Here’s a nice example of a flashy scene with an initially cool sounding idea that falls apart in retrospect. At one point a sniper hides his murderous shot in an explosion. When Holmes figures this out I assume the audience is meant to think this is clever but it just left me confused and annoyed. If the bomb kills everyone in the room then what was the point of the sniper in the first place? Oh, because Holmes needs a clue to follow in order to press the convoluted plot forward.
After the big forest scene Sherlock Holmes just sort of starts dying. I have no idea why. It just sort of starts happening. Don’t worry, though, they save him with that adrenaline needle that they showed us in a seemingly pointless scene at the beginning of the film.
Some examples of how Moriarty becomes selectively stupid when he needs to be for the plot to work: At the beginning of the film Watson is getting married, which would take him entirely out of the picture. Moriarty chooses to attack him, but to what purpose? If he goes off on his honeymoon then he is of no use to Holmes and is off the investigation, but when the murder fails it provides Watson with an incentive to join Holmes in the hunt for Moriarty. The villain simply had no real reason to do any of this! The so-called genius that is supposed to be thinking many moves ahead added a new opponent to the mix in a gamble where he had nothing to gain.
On a related note Moriarty has several scenes where he is alone with Holmes but makes no move to harm him. How does the movie end? Moriarty tries to kill Holmes with his bare hands. Why wait until the end? Killing Holmes would have certainly made the entire plan much simpler. Moriarty certainly had no issue with killing Irene Adler minutes into the film.