The transformation of Sherlock Holmes from 19th Century private detective to 21st Century action hero is now complete with the release of ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,’ the sequel to the financially-successful 2009 reboot of the character.
Under the directorial guidance of Guy Ritchie, Sherlock (Robert Downey, Jr.) operated in a grey, grungy London in the first installment, teaming with his good friend Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) to solve a dastardly crime with far-reaching effects. ‘Shadows’ moves the bulk of the action to the Continent, where Holmes delves into the death of the Crown Prince of Austria and must grapple with the murderous Moriarty (Jared Harris), who is trying to start a European war for his own evil purposes.
Arguably smarter than Holmes, Moriarty is definitely more devious, and is perfectly willing — eager, even — to inflict emotional pain to advance his cause, to the extent that he calmly arranges for the death of Sherlock’s beloved friend Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). Taken aback by this personal affront, Holmes arranges for Watson’s beloved new wife (Kelly Reilly) to be whisked away for her own safety and well-being, never mind that it’s their honeymoon.
Holmes and Watson then track down Madame Simka (Noomi Rapace, from the original Swedish version of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’), a Gypsy who has information that the detecting duo need to order to track down Moriarty and stop him from fanning the flames of war.
‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ places the emphasis on character and action rather than plot, which is good, since the plot is an elaborate labyrinth full of holes and doesn’t much matter anyway. Holmes and Watson banter affectionately and face down danger together, always downplaying the incredulity of the outlandish predicaments in which they find themselves, and that passes for character development in the world of modern heroics.
It’s all in good fun, but if you’re not tuned in to the specific frequency, it just sounds like one note being played over and over again, variations on the same weak joke. The action scenes are a victim of the repetition syndrome as well; by this point, Guy Ritchie’s rhythms are well-known, and we know we can expect too-tight framing, confusing choreography, and slow-motion inserts, all in settings that are, this time, rather drab and unimaginative.
To be fair, the general spirit of geniality bleeds freely throughout, coating the tedious and boring sections with sufficient levity to make watching the entire movie a tolerable experience, even if you’re not bemused by the sight of a train that’s been blown in half never stopping, or slowing down, to notice that half of the cars have been left behind.
If you liked the first one, chances are you’ll like the second. ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ doesn’t provide anything new, just more of the same.