Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

                                 Noomi Rapace (L), Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law

All too often, sequels have this annoying habit of not living up to the expectations set by their predecessors. On rare occasions they live up to the original (The Dark Knight), while even less often they exceed them (X-Men 2).

Whether the blame is to rest on audiences for getting their hopes too high or on filmmakers for not trying hard enough, sequels tend to be disappointing.

This was my fear when waiting in the theater for “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” to start.

The first film in director Guy Ritchie’s franchise left off with the suspenseful acknowledgement of Holmes’ greatest villain, Professor James Moriarty.

Including Moriarty in this new film raises both the bar of expectation as well as the list of possibilities for the story. He is brilliant, powerful, a skilled fighter and, above all else, purely evil.

“Game of Shadows” picks up with Watson’s (Jude Law) approaching wedding and Holmes’ (Robert Downey, Jr.) continued pursuit to uncover Moriarty’s schemes. Unlike the first film, there isn’t much time spent on setting up our heroes. The plot is fairly straightforward: Holmes must find and stop Moriarty at all costs.

The majority of the film follows Holmes’ investigation of what his nemesis has been up to. Moriarty is different from 2009’s Lord Blackwood in almost every way. His schemes are brought to fruition through the acquisition of companies and by dispatching men to do his dirty work. Blackwood ruled through fear whereas Moriarty is a thinking man.

As for the man who plays Moriarty, I was a little worried about Jared Harris’ capabilities. He is a fine actor, but not one where you immediately think “Of course, who else could it be?!”

That being said, Harris gave a chilling performance worthy of the character. It was not a portrayal that will have people talking Heath Ledger in 2008, but Moriarty felt right. He was calm, intelligent and he gave off the creepy feeling of evil. The first scene where he and Holmes meet is very relaxed but you can feel that both men would stab the other in the heart if the time was right.

Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes (L) and Jared Harris as Dr. James Moriarty

Being a fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, I was very excited about seeing Noomi Rapace (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) in an American film. Both she and her “Dragon Tattoo” co-star, Michael Nyqvist are appearing in American blockbusters this holiday season for the first time.

Rapace gave an okay character a pretty good performance. There wasn’t a whole to work with as the story was mostly concerned with Holmes, Watson and Moriarty.

Speaking of Holmes and Watson, Ritchie may have had a little too much fun with the bromance between Law and Downey. The latter’s delivery on lines like “Lie with me, Watson” are dead on, but overall it felt like they were implying a romantic relationship a few too many times. We get it, you don’t have to beat it over the audience’s head.

How well did “Game of Shadows” live up to the original? It’s kind of hard to tell. “Sherlock Holmes” was partly such a big success because Downey was still riding his comeback from “Iron Man” and the film was a brand new idea. Kind of like how the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” was great and the jokes became stale further into the series. Downey hasn’t outstayed his welcome in this franchise but the filmmakers may want to cut down their reliance on humor in future films.

One thing that I did enjoy more about this film than the last was that Holmes didn’t hold back his cards from the audience until the very end. This time around, we were able to journey with Holmes, rather than just have him tell us everything at the end.

The last 45 minutes of this film are really what sold me. I was feeling pretty shaky up until that point. Between the scene where the heroes are trying to outrun military artillery to the chess match between Holmes and Moriarty (and what this scene leads to – don’t want to give up too much) I believe this film is better than most sequels, but misses the bar set by the 2009 film. A little too much camp, not enough classic Sherlock.

Grade: B

What was your favorite film this holiday?

Good afternoon and happy viewing.

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