The first Sherlock Holmes movie pulled off a surprise with its interesting yet different take of the legendary character. While some viewers disapproved the movie's portrayal of Holmes, it still managed to win the hearts of the general audience thanks to remarkable performances and fun dynamics from the cast.
This time around "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" introduces Holmes' greatest adversary: Professor James Moriarty, which automatically raises the stakes and expectations. The movie is definitely larger in scale but it was bogged down by not giving an essential element of the story the treatment it deserves.
In 1891, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) delivers a package to Dr. Hoffmanstahl—payment for a letter he was to deliver. Hoffmanstahl opens the package, triggering a hidden bomb which is prevented from detonating by the intervention of Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.). Holmes takes the letter and disposes of the bomb while Adler and Hoffmanstahl escape. Holmes later finds Hoffmanstahl assassinated. Adler meets with Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) to explain the events, but Moriarty poisons her—deeming her position compromised by her love for Holmes.
Some time later, Dr. Watson (Jude Law) arrives at 221B Baker Street, where Holmes discloses that he is investigating a series of seemingly unrelated murders, terrorist attacks, and business acquisitions, that he has connected to Moriarty. Holmes meets with the gypsy Simza (Noomi Rapace), the intended recipient of the letter he had taken from Adler, sent by her brother Rene. Holmes defeats an assassin sent to kill Simza, but she flees before Holmes can interrogate her. After Mary (Kelly Reilly) and Watson's wedding, Holmes meets Moriarty for the first time. Moriarty informs Holmes that he murdered Adler and will kill Watson and Mary if Holmes' interference continues.
Moriarty's men attack Watson and Mary on a train to their honeymoon. Holmes, having followed the pair for protection, throws Mary from the train into a river below where she is picked up by Holmes' waiting brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry). After defeating Moriarty's men, Holmes and Watson travel to Paris to locate Simza. When she is found, Holmes tells Simza that she has been targeted because Rene is working for Moriarty, and may have told her about his plans. Simza takes the pair to the headquarters of an anarchist group to which she and Rene had formerly belonged. They learn that the anarchists have been forced to plant bombs for Moriarty.
The trio follows Holmes's deduction that the bomb is in the Paris Opera. However, Holmes realizes too late that he has been tricked and that the bomb is in a nearby hotel; the bomb kills a number of assembled businessmen. Holmes discovers that the bomb was a cover for the assassination of Meinhart—one of the attendees—by Moriarty's aide, Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson). Meinhart's death grants Moriarty ownership of Meinhart's weapons factory in Germany. Holmes, Watson, and Simza travel there, following clues in Rene's letters.
At the factory, Moriarty captures and tortures Holmes, while Watson is under sniper fire from Moran. Moriarty reveals that he owns shares in multiple war-profiting companies, and intends to instigate a world war to make himself a fortune. Meanwhile, Watson uses the cannon he had been hiding behind to destroy the lighthouse in which Moran is concealed. The structure collapses into the warehouse where Moriarty is holding Holmes captive. Watson, Simza, and an injured Holmes reunite and escape aboard a moving train. Holmes deduces that Moriarty's final target will be a peace summit in Switzerland, creating an international incident.
At the summit, Holmes reveals that Rene is the assassin and that he is disguised as one of the ambassadors—having been given radical reconstructive surgery by Hoffmanstahl to alter his appearance. Holmes and Moriarty, who is also in attendance, retreat outside to discuss their competing plans. Watson and Simza find Rene and stop his assassination attempt, but Rene is himself silenced by Moran. Outside, Holmes reveals that he previously replaced Moriarty's personal diary that contained all his plans and financing with a duplicate. The original was sent to Mary in London who decrypted the code and cypher using the the information on the board and a book that Holmes had noticed in Moriarty's office during their first meeting. Mary passes the information to Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) who seizes the bulk of Moriarty's assets, financially crippling him. Holmes and Moriarty anticipate an impending physical confrontation, and both realize Moriarty would win due to Holmes' injured shoulder. Holmes instead grapples Moriarty and forces them both over the balcony and into the Reichenbach waterfall below.
Their bodies are not found. Following Holmes' funeral, Watson and Mary prepare to have their belated honeymoon when Watson, who is now writing the last few lines from "The Final Problem", receives a package containing a breathing device of Mycroft's that Holmes had noticed before the summit. Realizing that Holmes is still alive, Watson leaves his office to find the delivery man. Holmes, having concealed himself in Watson's office, reads a fresh eulogy on Watson's typewriter and adds a question mark after the words "The End".
About the movie:
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" opens on a strong note with a fun-that-became-intense-later-on sequence which involves Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). That particular sequence explains why the main female character of the previous installment has a small, albeit important, role in this sequel.
The opening sets up the movie's tone quite well but it took quite a time to establish the threat and what is at stake. It's actually alright for them to take that approach since the main character is a detective after all but unfortunately that's the part where the movie hit a snag.
The usual content is here, just like the original: Frequent and very intense action violence, some grisly images of dead bodies, one very crude scene containing brief nudity, frequent drinking, smoking and one drug reference.
There's not much detective work in this story and the movie just conveniently situated set pieces for it to progress. Sure, we still see a glimpse of Holmes' brilliant mind like the way he anticipates every blow of a fight before the first punch is thrown or the tactics he used to take the bad guys down unwittingly by themselves but it all felt too studied and forced. Moriarty's “evil plan” is not compelling as well and it was evident in the middle of the story in which the movie struggled in keeping a narrative momentum.
Though the fight scenes are very choreographed and stylized, they're bone-crunching and often brutal. And the slo-mo effects sometimes make the anticipation of the impact almost worse than the impact itself. Knives, guns, and bombs are all in use; there's also one scene of torture and a suicide. There's also a fair bit of innuendo, one scene of a naked man from behind, some mild language ("bastard" and "damn), pipe smoking, and social drinking.
Lots of humor. Heavy at times, especially in the beginning. Definitely entertaining for the older teen and adult.
Robert Downey and Jude Law still carried the movie very well and their actions and banter are always a delight to watch. The casting of Jarred Harris as Moriarty was also perfect. Harris did a great job and exudes menace effortlessly without going over the top. The “chess showdown” between Moriarty and Holmes in the last act was riveting and almost made up for the movie's shortcomings.
Also a standout is Stephen Fry who played Holmes' brother Mycroft as he managed to make his short scenes shine. McAdams presence is missed here and Rapace didn't leave that much of an impression which is not her fault since the character she played is weakly-conceived.
The relationship between Holmes and Dr. Watson, which I loved since in the first film, is better delineated here, as one actually senses their mutual affection, even as Watson prepares to leave his adventurous friend behind to embark upon married life.
Ultimately "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" is very entertaining movie with its good cast and polished production making it worth the watch but the lack of inquisitive detective work takes the movie down the level of a typical action flick only set in the 19th century and that's quite a shame because "Sherlock Holmes" stories should be more than that.
It’s certainly lively and has clever moments that involve Holmes’ keen powers of observation, and his ability to think his way out of sticky situations.
Rating : 8/10
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