Can we all agree that one of the best things to happen in Hollywood in the past of couple of decades is Robert Downey Jr. getting his shit together and not ending up like John Belushi or River Phoenix? He’s arguably the best actor in Hollywood, and if you do argue, you can at least admit that he is currently the most entertaining. Between Iron Man, Kirk Lazarus (Tropic Thunder), and Sherlock Holmes, he’s currently enjoying a peak that any actor would kill for - and not just for the money. With Iron Man, he’s sarcastic, fun, and a superhero; Kirk Lazarus - a white guy playing a black guy and poking fun at acting at the same time. For me, Sherlock is his best so far, a combination of wit, narcissism, charm, and brilliance and I’m very pleased that A Game of Shadows lived up to the standard set by the first film.
The first thing you need to know about A Game of Shadows is that you don’t need to have seen the first one to follow. Like James Bond or Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes is about different adventures rather than a continuing story (I really hope I don’t have to eat those words later). The only important thing you get from watching the first film are the characters, of which all of the important ones return, and are what make the films good in the first place. The good thing is that A Game of Shadows is written well enough to give you those characters without making you feel like you don’t know them. More importantly, we get the villain we were teased with in the first film - Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris).
This time around, Holmes is working on the “most important case of his career” and is upset that Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is getting married and will be leaving his side for good. In the midst of his personal turmoil, he is convinced that a spat of murders and bombings are all related and are being orchestrated by Moriarty, though he doesn’t know how. In addition to the people we know, we are introduced to Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who holds an important post in the British government and is looking after Watson’s wife, Mary (Kelly Reilly) while Sherlock and Watson pursue their quarry. We also meet Simza (Noomi Rapace), a gypsy who is being hunted by Moriarty’s assassins and whose brother is missing. Together, the group is chasing and being chased by Moriarty and his villains through much of Europe while the continent is inching towards war.
Like the first film, this one is much more action and adventure than mystery solving. It follows the same formula of the heroes traveling from place to place and picking up just enough information to move us to the next location. And rest assured, Sherlock will explain everything to you at the end of the film, just as he did in the first film, so don’t worry about trying to catch things.
My only real disappointment with the film is that the plot is virtually identical to that of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. An evil villain from literature is working to start a war in order to be the one who supplies weapons and supplies to all of the parties at war. Hell, they even share the same villain in Moriarty, which, now that I think about it, is highly suspect. I gave the writers praise for writing a standalone movie so it’s only fair that I take that praise right back for an uncreative story. I might have cut them more slack or possibly not even have noticed if I didn’t think Gentlemen was one of the crappiest movies of the last decade.
Aside from that, the movie is quite enjoyable, highlighted by Law and Downey’s superb chemistry. The way they play off of each other makes for the best duo we’ve seen in years and never tires throughout two movies now. Guy Ritchie (director) also deserves credit for retaining what made the first film so good - great music, cinematography that gives the film that slightly antique feel, and the cool effect of having Sherlock play out his fight scenes in his head, in slow motion with narration, then replaying them again in real time. Coupled with Downey’s incredible ability to deliver us a great character in Sherlock, I can easily call this a sequel that equals its predecessor. I just hope Downey’s peak continues long enough to deliver a third Sherlock Holmes.
Rating: Do not ask for any of your money back and I won’t even tell you it’s elementary.