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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

A movie directed by Guy Ritchie

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Two Intelligent Men, One Elementary Rivalry

  • Dec 20, 2011
Star Rating:

The title is Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and indeed, it’s all about the shadowy arts of cleverness and deception. This is to be expected when you have an adversarial relationship between two supremely intelligent men. I am, of course, referring to detective-for-hire Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), both engaged in a deadly battle of wits in 1891 Europe. They’re each faced with the monumental task of being one step ahead of the other, which requires a thought process and an attention to detail that most would consider inhuman. For Holmes, it comes as second nature. We’ve once already seen his ability to make highly accurate deductions simply by analyzing the little things most people take no notice of. He finally admits that he notices absolutely everything, and that it’s just as much a curse as it is a blessing.
A Game of Shadows is, naturally, a sequel to the 2009 blockbuster Sherlock Holmes. Both films are directed by Guy Ritchie, allowing for some rather interesting spins on the original stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. For these reboots, the title character is a bit more bohemian, the plots are a bit more action-oriented, and the special effects are a bit more showy and expensive. Ritchie turns up the volume in A Game of Shadows with a story intended to be funnier, trickier, and literally more explosive than its predecessor. That it’s a great deal of fun, there can be absolutely no question. One wonders, though, if some audiences will find the plot a little difficult to follow, as it works in twists, turns, and misdirection the way artists work in oils or acrylics.

The first film brought full attention to some of the quirky mannerisms Doyle created for Holmes, including his hyper analytical thinking skills (which some contemporary scholars convincingly attribute to Asperger’s syndrome), his affinity for bare-knuckle boxing and martial arts, and his inelegant style of dress. This new film draws on other quirks, most notably his ability to disguise himself and his occasional use of cocaine. Ritchie and screenwriters Kieran and Michele Mulroney take it one step further – in one scene, he downs a glass full of formaldehyde. I have absolutely no idea what that does to a living body, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. His 221B Baker Street flat continues to be the center of his eccentric behaviors; in this particular case, we see he has filled it with jungle foliage and specific types of animals. He continues to perform strange experiments on Watson’s dog, and they always do less harm than they probably would in real life.
I’m going to describe the plot in hurried, vague terms, as I don’t want to ruin the intricate mystery for you. Holmes and Watson (Jude Law) are drawn into a complicated web of crimes that seem to connect back to Professor Moriarty, who, as you may remember, was the stranger who kept himself hidden in shadow in the first film. They eventually involve a fortune-telling gypsy named Sim (Noomi Rapace), one of Moriarty’s targets. Why does he want her out of the way? It might have something to do with her missing brother, who not only worked for Moriarty but was also once affiliated with a radical terrorist group in located in Paris. The unexpected death of a prominent businessman, masked by a deceptive explosion, leads Holmes to Germany, where they discover a massive arms factory. Clearly, Moriarty has invested in large-scale weaponry. But why? And how does Sim’s brother fit into all of this?

All leads to a final sequence that’s a triumph of plotting, pacing, and editing. It even works in an especially well-known turn of events, and if you’re at all familiar with Doyle’s original stories, then you probably already know what I’m referring to. During this scene, there’s an especially well-written scene involving Holmes and Moriarty, who engage in a chess game that starts out with physical moves but eventually escalates to verbal one-upsmanship. There’s an indescribable satisfaction that comes with watching one-on-one displays of intellectual prowess; I almost feel as if I’m being invited to probe deeply into the characters’ minds, to determine for myself what it is they’re really thinking and feeling at that very moment.
Intertwined with this is a subplot involving Watson, his new wife, Mary (Kelly Reilly), and Holmes’ equally eccentric brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who without explanation will wander his estate naked, even in the presence of servants and guests (the former are clearly used to this, whereas the latter most definitely are not). It should be noted that the entire film is actually a memoir being written by Watson, which further connects the film to Doyle’s original stories. While a bit plot heavy, and although some of the action is overplayed – just wait for the scene of Holmes, Watson, and Sim running slow motion through a forest being blasted apart by gunfire – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is an engaging and enjoyable mystery film. Like its predecessor, it remains faithful to its source, and yet it isn’t so bogged down by insider references that it alienates modern audiences.


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August 17, 2012
God, I really, really liked this film.
August 20, 2012
It sounds like you enjoyed it more than I did. But I still enjoyed it.
February 18, 2012
I really want to see this. I enjoyed the heck out of Ritchie's first "Sherlock
February 18, 2012
I enjoyed it too, although it was a little too action-heavy for my taste. But they're both entertaining and skillfully made.
December 21, 2011
Good story and wonderful pictures !
December 21, 2011
Thanks for the comment. Yes, it does tell an interesting story, although I did feel it was a little too clever for it's own good.
December 21, 2011
More Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Sha... reviews
review by . December 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Being quite familiar with Guy Ritchie’s works such as “Snatch” and “Lock Stock Two Smoking Barrels”, I know he is the kind of director who likes to cater to mainstream viewers. I wasn’t too fond with his “Sherlock Holmes” back in 2009, but I have to admit that it was fun escapist entertainment carried by strong performances from its cast. It was a simple formula that worked that it spawned this sequel “Game of Shadows” as Robert Downey …
review by . December 20, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I didn't like the original. Why did I think I would like the sequel?
I really did not like the first Sherlock Holmes movie 2009 for many reasons.  I went to see it and was so sorry afterwards.  I don't know what I was expecting but I did not find it entertaining.  I thought it played to freely with the Sherlock Holmes legend and tried to turn it into a video game themed movie.  Now two years later I saw the trailer for the sequel and thought it looked really good.  I read the reviews and some were very good, while some were not.   …
review by . December 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I didn't pick up on it in the first one, but after someone brought it to my attention and repeat viewings....oh yeah, Holmes and Watson are pretty gay for each other in the first film and in this one.....oh yeah it's the whole point why Irene Adler was even in the first movie and why Watson is getting married here, to throw you off.      I really hated making the gay joke above but this running thread in this movie, especially during the train rescue scene is a real distraction.  …
review by . August 17, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
***1/2 out of ****    "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" improves upon its predecessor in just about every way. Guy Ritchie has dropped the excessive green screen and employment of unnecessary slow-motion (although plenty is still present, just somewhat more, you know, NECESSARY) as well as the miscast Rachel McAdams from the original (who does appear here, but gets killed off early on, thank God). Ritchie seems to have understood what was wrong and what was right about his …
review by . December 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law return once again as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows“. In this installment, a series of bombings across Europe has positioned the nations of the world on the brink of war. Holmes is convinced that there is a criminal mastermind behind the numerous, seemingly unrelated events and he believes it is renowned scholar James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Watson, well-accustomed to Holmes’ eccentric and erratic behavior, …
review by . December 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
It was two years ago when Guy Ritchie debuted his take of the famous detective from Baker Street. From the outset it enraged traditionalist fans who did not want Sherlock Holmes to be a gritty street fighter. It was fun to watch as any blockbuster should be and Robert Downey Jr. was in the middle of his resurgence. Since that time Downey has become an A-lister while the original movie grossed $524 million dollars worldwide. So while certainly not a great movie it put butts in the seats and while …
Quick Tip by . December 20, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Guy Ritchie’s indulges in style, fast-editing and tricky camerawork to generate a feeling of tension in the action sequences. It is a well-made film and such formula was successful in the 2009 film, and in this sequel expect more of the same.      The plot in this sequel is pretty simple and offers little surprises. The acting was good as always, but the dialogue does feel obligatory at times and the interactions between Watson and Holmes resemble a married couple.   …
Quick Tip by . December 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Decent sequel to the 2009 hit has Sherlock and the newly wed Watson following Professor Moriarty's trail as he attempts to agitate events that will lead to World War 1. Plenty of what made the first great, but the homo eroticizm between the leads is un-ignorable nor is the fact that the story, while deep isn't as intriguing.
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Director: Guy Ritchie

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