Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is unmistakably the second film in director Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes franchise.  I suppose it’s hard to fault it on that level, but that’s also the reason it took me so long to see the movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the first Sherlock Holmes.  It’s just hard to put a high priority on a movie from which you know exactly what to expect, especially in the midst of a season loaded with a bunch of unique films (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Artist, Hugo) probably best experienced before too much is said about them.

Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), a sinister arms dealer hell-bent on kick-starting the first World War, is a vast improvement over the first film’s villain (an atypically weak Mark Strong), even if the film never gets to the bottom of what exactly makes him such a “genius.”  The film’s other big addition is wasted when Noomi Rapace (the Swedish Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) quickly becomes a back-seat passenger after a fun introduction to her potentially interesting fortune-teller character.

Otherwise, the film is a continuation of the often-humorous banter between drunken detective and master of disguise Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law), his best friend and reluctant sidekick.   Rachel McAdams returns for a short cameo, but I was hoping for Rapace’s character to develop into a new romantic interest for Holmes.  The pair initially seemed to have a good rapport, but like I said, she’s wildly underused.  Instead, we get a lonely Holmes moping around while serving as the best man at Watson’s wedding.

The entire first hour is otherwise pretty inconsequential as we endure a few Pirates of the Caribbean-esque chases and the game of cat-and-mouse between Holmes and Moriarty begins.  The final hour fares much better with an exciting and nicely textured woodland firefight and a final showdown between Holmes and Moriarty that has the two experienced fighters treating hand-to-hand combat like it’s a game of chess.  These two scenes would have been even more effective had Ritchie not already gone to well with the slow-motion and “show me the fight scene before it actually even happens” techniques so often in both this and the previous film.

That’s what I love so much about the Mission: Impossible franchise.  Tom Cruise keeps the series fresh by hiring new directors and allowing them to put their own personal stamp on their chapter in the Ethan Hunt saga.  Each entry in the series feels like a reboot, a stand-alone film and a continuation of a larger story.  A Game of Shadows just feels like more of the same.

Grade:  C+

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