Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Genre: Adventure and Mystery Running Time: 2 hrs. 9 min.

Release Date: December 16th, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Guy Ritchie Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan




he opening scene tells all – Sherlock Holmes is still a master of disguise, highly skilled as a martial artist, capable of conjuring amazingly accurate premonitions of future events, and can slow down time through momentary meditation. He’s still good with the ladies, quick with his tongue, and proficient with the impossible. And he’s still absolutely nothing like the Sherlock Holmes authored by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – or any other filmic adaptation (save for his smoking of a pipe). The sole reconciling factor is that since this is a sequel, audiences already know what to expect. In that regard, “A Game of Shadows” is just slightly more entertaining than its predecessor. Unfortunately, even if it weren’t called “Sherlock Holmes” and wasn’t based on any preexisting concept, it would still be unforgivably silly.

In 1891 London, famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is supposed to be helping his best friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law) with a stag party and preparation for Watson’s wedding. Instead, the master sleuth is absorbed with getting to the bottom of an anarchist bombing in Strasbourg. At the heart of the rebel group, which includes a captivatingly exotic gypsy woman (Noomi Rapace, the only refreshing, unique addition, who gets not nearly enough screen time) and extremist leader Claude Ravache (Thierry Neuvic), is a renowned professor named James Moriarty (Jared Harris), who is masterminding World War I.

“It’s a game… a shadowy game,” muses Holmes. A “game of shadows” to be exact. How thrilling for the title to be worked into the dialogue (or so Peter Griffin of “Family Guy” sarcastically insists). Nearly everything that takes place in this second outing is as impossibly foolish as in the first. Slow motion abounds, utilized to make the audience feel stupid; since no one is smart enough to keep up with Holmes’ mind, he’s merely shown interpreting objects and observing surroundings, collecting every minute detail with a photographic memory. Once the riddle is solved or the action concluded, flashbacks instruct the viewer as to what all the surveillance added up to. There aren’t even any clues to be sorted – everything is revealed after the fact.

By its design, it’s hopelessly contrived. Watching Sherlock should be an interactive experience, but Guy Ritchie’s hyperactive cinematic styling has made the event completely one-sided. Even the tiniest of hints are kept incalculably obscured, such as a set of twins who are never shown plainly as such. Only after a flashback in which Holmes scrutinizes their unnoticed likeness is it apparent. Why hide even the most minor suspicions from the audience? Should they not be left to figure something out for themselves? “This is so deliciously complicated,” remarks the detective. Apparently, it’s so convoluted that it can only be shown in rapid cuts, hasty zooms, or silent slow motion involving camerawork that revolves around focal characters like something out of “The Matrix” – frequently accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s speedy fiddles.

The writers are obviously familiar with the original stories, and have finally included Moriarty. They also make references to Watson’s involvement in the Afghan War and include Holmes’ brother Mycroft, who relaxes in the Diogenes Club instead of using his more gifted mind for flatfooting. But the similarities, particularly to previous filmed versions, stop there. Aerialist assassins are no match for the equally acrobatic Holmes, who is shown to be an unequaled mixed martial artist. The preoccupation with action choreography and massive explosions is topped only by the demand for one-liner jokes and verbal slaps to the face. And at the end of it all, there really isn’t even a mystery.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10