Tis the season for long-titled sequels to money-making blockbusters. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows arrives two years after Guy Ritchie's surprise hit reboot of the beloved super sleuth series. The modern filmmaking style and action-packed approach makes it the perfect kind of movie for those with shorter attention spans, but luckily the witty dialog and complex plot points add just enough smarts into the mix to keep it from being completely dumbed down. Robert Downey Jr. proves once again here that he's an inspired choice for the title hero, and gives him personality in spades, along with a quirky and somewhat insane intellect that just makes him ever so fun to watch on screen. As far as sequels go, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows plays its cards very wisely as to continue the look and feel of the first film without feeling particularly sophomoric. Although it's not without its share of a few issues, it still comes out well enough to, perhaps, even be an improvement on the original.
A Game of Shadows picks up shortly after the previous film left off, and Dr. Watson is mere hours away from finally tying the knot--much to Holmes' dismay--with his beloved fiancee. While Holmes' whole plot to try to keep Watson from making such a "mistake" as marriage was a significant part of the previous film, it does feel a little too familiar at times to be a road to revisit in Shadows. However, they don't quite drag it out as much as they did the first time, so when Watson inevitably does take the vows before the middle of the film, Holmes still manages to rope Watson into yet another dangerous adventure. When first seeing trailers for this installment, I feared that we were in for one of those Shanghai Knights / Rush Hour-type sequels where the most fun lines and moments of the first film would be hopelessly rehashed for the sequel in an effort to force lightning to strike twice. For instance, the exchange between Holmes and Watson in the first movie about getting a particular object out of one's face was repeated, of course by the reverse party this time, in a sequence in the trailer. It seemed forced and especially "sequel"-ish, but thankfully it didn't make it into the final cut of A Game of Shadows. In fact, there didn't appear to be any of those moments in the dialog that just felt way too hokey and included just to be a nod to the previous venture. However, there were some of Ritchie's previously-used film techniques that did begin to wear out their welcome.
In the 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie employed several unique storytelling devices that included Holmes imagining and planning out either his assailant's attack or what would be his attack on an approaching goon. It was a cool device and it was nothing like anything I'd ever seen on screen before, so it only seems natural that Ritchie would bring it back for a second run. For the most part, it works just as well as it did the first time around, however, some of the slow motion approaches to showing the detail in the action began to tucker out long before Ritchie was through using them. The worst scene where this was the case was when Holmes and company are dashing through a forest where they're being showered with gunfire. Ritchie was particularly relentless in showing nearly each bullet whizzing by with fragments of tree bark and dirt slowly bursting before our very eyes. It was cool for the first few seconds, but it then became gratuitous--if not obnoxious--as the scene continued to plod on and it was still being shown in slow motion. By the time the film resumed at a normal speed, it felt like we were coming up out of the water after holding our breath for much too long. The only other problem that Ritchie seemed to have with Shadows was deciding exactly how to end the film. The ending comes a bit abruptly with a resolution so unbelievable that Ritchie decided to leave it unexplained and rather open-ended (note: it was inspired by the ending in one of the original Sherlock books, but it's given that ole' Hollywood twist). It was still rather satisfying and not oddball enough to entirely ruin the rollercoaster ride leading up to the finale, but it did feel just a little too extraordinary and over-the-top... even by the standards Ritchie has previously set as his world for Sherlock Holmes.
Where the first Holmes had an unsettlingly uncertain quasi-spirituality to it (which had a much better resolution than one may fear as the film unfolds and Holmes dives into the world of occultism), A Game of Shadows enters, instead, into the realm of intellectual warfare; instead of dabbling in the spiritual realm, Holmes has met his intellectual match in the iconic villain, Professor Moriarity. Jared Harris, who I've only previously seen in smaller roles in films like Lady in the Water, Ocean's 12 and Extraordinary Measures, is excellent as the perfect foil for Holmes. It was an excellent added dynamic to see Holmes caught off guard by a worthy opponent. Jude Law also brings his A-game as Dr. Watson once again, while Downey continues to clearly have a real blast with the Sherlock character. Noomi Rapace, who I personally haven't seen in a film before, plays a fortune teller named Sim who joins Holmes and Watson in the quest to locate her brother, who Holmes believes has been roped into helping Moriarity. She fits well into the Holmes world, although Rachel McAdams, as the object of Holmes' affection, is sorely missed once she's reintroduced and then so quickly dismissed for the rest of the film.
The content's trouble areas for A Game of Shadows lie mostly within the spectrum of action violence. We see lots of slow motion fighting as well as gunfire, explosions, etc (a miscellaneous character even puts a gun up to his head in one scene and offs himself). In one particular scene, a main character is tortured by a large hook being driven into their shoulder, which is then used to hang them by, causing them a great deal of pain. While we do not see the wound directly, nor do we see a whole lot of blood, it's a pretty intense scene. Otherwise, some scrapes and assorted wounds are shown with a little bit of blood, but none are graphically focused on, unlike the first film. There is one partial scene of nudity when we see Holmes' overweight brother Mycroft standing completely nude with part of his bare butt crack showing and everything else below the waist being blocked by things in the foreground. It's played for comedy, but hardly anything you wish to have repeating in your mind's eye ever again. Lastly, language is especially light with just two uses of "d*mn," three of "b*stard," and three derivatives of "G-d" (1 "Oh my G-d," 1 "Oh, G-d," and 1 "For G-d's sake").
It's a tough call to say whether A Game of Shadows surpasses its predecessor, but it's tempting to say that the first Sherlock Holmes does enough right to overshadow where it goes wrong. Fantastic dialog, excellent action, and wonderful characters make this an excellent holiday 2011 release. Here's to hoping Downey has at least one more in him before hanging up the pipe.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 12/23/11)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The second Sherlock Holmes adventure is a lovely addition to the Blu-Ray motion picture catalog. Warner gives us the ideal DVD/Blu/Ultraviolet option, as well as the usual single disc DVDs and the usual digital outlets. In addition to the feature film, the Blu-Ray disc includes some behind-the-scenes extras as well as a neat interactive version of the film that brings actor Robert Downey Jr. into your living room (so to speak) to add some unique visual commentary while you watch the movie...
Maximum Movie Mode: Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes Hosted by Robert Downey Jr. (2:08:44) - With "Maximum Movie Mode," Robert Downey Jr. periodically pops onto the screen to tell stories about the movie's production or reflect on the cast he worked with. It's also interesting to hear about how he influenced the story in the long run. If you just want to watch Downey's appearances (which work in some behind-the-scenes footage as well), all you have to do is simply hit the right arrow on your Blu-Ray remote to move ahead to the next point in the movie that utilizes the feature. It's a fun addition to the disc and well worth checking out for fans of the film... and especially Robert Downey, Jr. And since Downey does interrupt the scenes and the flow of the story, it's best to view this feature after having already seen the film before.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Movie App (2:08:44) - Much like the whole "Disney Second Screen" feature that allows you to download an app for you iPad or Macbook and sync special features up with the film you're watching, Warner Bros. has made a "Movie App" available on your mobile device or tablet for the second Sherlock Holmes adventure. It's a neat way to go more in-depth with facts and photos and behind-the-scenes extras, but I do wish some of those were included on the disc here as extras too.
Holmesavision on Steroids (4:02) - There are seven short featurettes that collectively have a running time of 34:59 and are included together under the header "Focus Points." The first featurette takes a look at what the filmmakers affectionately call "Holmesavision," the slow motion analysis of Holmes' takedown methods when he's fighting. They show a bit about how these sequences are shot and how they tried to evolve the effect for the sequel.
Moriarity's Master Plan Unleashed (7:09) - The second chapter focuses on the casting of Moriarity and the intentions to make sure that the way Moriarity was portrayed was fresh and devoid of cliches. The chapter then focuses on how important the game of chess is to the story, including how several sequences were inspired and constructed.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Perfect Chemistry (5:18) - This is a wonderful little look into the relationship between Holmes and Watson and how close Law and Downey on and off the screen. We see some great interviews as well as B-roll footage of them working together on the set.
Meet Mycroft Holmes (5:30) is dedicated to Sherlock Holmes' eccentric brother Mycroft and actor Stephen Fry who was chosen to portray him in this film. Fry talks a great deal about the character, while cast and crew also reflect on Fry as Mycroft. The chapter wraps up as Fry talks about how absurd the Mycroft nude scene was, but how appropriate it was due to Mycroft being agoraphobic (we don't see any footage of the scene here...thankfully).
Sherlock Holmes: Under the Gypsy Spell (4:02) takes a look at the gypsy culture represented in the film and the introduction of Noomi Rapace's character. Noomi talks about her character here and what it was like to join the cast. We also get to see some great behind the scenes footage of her on set.
Guy Ritchie's Well-Oiled Machine (3:04) - This is a short but wonderful look at the methods of director Guy Ritchie. Fry opens this one up, comparing Ritchie's craft to other directors, and then Law and Downey both heap praise upon the director for his techniques. There are also some great on-set snippets here as well. I wouldn't have minded this one being a bit longer.
Holmes Without Borders (5:51) - Lastly, "Holmes Without Borders" addresses the locations and scale of the movie. The scope was undoubtedly larger for A Game of Shadows as Ritchie and company took the Holmes team around the world this time around. This featurette talks about that and is a nice way to close out the "Focus Points." Overall, these extras are short but sweet, never feeling overlong or boring, and are great watches for fans of the film.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/12/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: We see Mycroft emerge one morning completely in the nude. We see the top part of his bare butt as well as the rest of his backside up from there, and most of his bare front just before his privates. It's played for laughs and isn't meant to be sensual; Holmes sort of suggestively remarks that he's "sometimes early, but never late;" We briefly see a classic nude female marble statue; Holmes appears on a train dressed in drag. In one instance, Watson is trying to strangle him while sort of being on top of him, which looks awkward with Holmes being dressed in drag. Holmes then removes his disguise down to just his boxers. Later, Holmes gets down on the floor to avoid gun fire, but before we know that that is the reason, Holmes playfully says to Watson, "Lie with me, Watson," to which Watson gets extremely indignant about.
Vulgarity/Language: 2 "d*mn," 3 "b*stard," 1 "Oh my G-d," 1 "Oh, G-d," and 1 "For G-d's sake," 1 "Oh, Lord"
Alcohol/Drugs: Holmes gets high off of drinking embalming fluid; We see Holmes drinking a lot at a party; We see that Watson is very drunk and then hung over the next morning; Holmes briefly spots what might be a pile of coke lying on a table in a hidden passageway; Holmes drinks more at a party; Holmes is given an injection that gives him a burst of energy that is like a drug
Blood/Gore: Holmes has some blood on the side of his head and a black eye after a fight; We see some blood on a hankerchief after a person coughed on it; Holmes has a bloody cut on his cheek from a knife blade; Holmes has a lot of blood on his hand and on some of his clothes; Both Holmes and Watson are seen with bloody cuts all over them and blood on their clothes. We see Watson stitching up a wound, but we don't see the actual wound, just some blood on his shirt; Watson pulls a bloody piece of wood out of Holmes' foot (but we don't see the actual wound); We see a room of dead men after an explosion. There are varying amounts of blood on them and their clothes; Moriarity has a little blood on his face; A gunman has a little blood on his face; A man who has been poisoned is seen foaming at the mouth
Violence: Lots of action violence. We see a building blow up; Several street thugs attack Holmes. He imagines what they may do to him and his attack strategy and then carries it out on them, which includes beating them senseless and driving a man's knife into his own neck (we don't really see it graphically); A person is poisoned, giving them a lethal, quick-killing disease; Holmes shoots Watson with a few little arrows; Holmes poisons Watson's dog and then injects it with a concoction that revives it; Holmes envisions his attack on a man hiding in a ceiling, which includes dislocating or breaking the man's shoulder. He then begins to carry it out, but Sim throws several knives which cause the man to collapse. He then gets up and runs away. He fights Holmes in the next hallway, taking the fight outside. A mob of people outside then instigate the fight to go further and Holmes continues to fight him. It soon ends with Holmes flying through a window, crashing a table Watson is sitting at, which starts a small fight there; A man tries to kill Watson on a train, but Watson fights him back. His wife then throws the man out of the train to his death. Holmes shows up and shoots at some more bad guys. He throws Mrs. Watson off the train into a river below and continues to fight the guys attacking them. Watson strangles Holmes and we see a gun backfire in the face of one of the bad guys. Another group of guys shoot up the train car they're in with a huge gatling gun. Watson shoots one of them, which starts a chain of events that leads to a huge explosion, presumably killing their attackers; We see another explosion that kills everyone in a room; A man holds a gun to his own head and pulls the trigger, killing himself; Holmes engages in a fire fight with some men and then is chloroformed; A man jabs a large hook into another man's shoulder and then hoists him into the air while interrogating him. Another man is seen running from a sniper and eventually uses a large cannon to knock a light tower to the ground; Watson and Holmes use random weapons in a weapon depot to fend off some men chasing them; Watson wrestles a man for his gun; We see a man convulse a bit before dying from a poisoned dart; Holmes plans out his attack theoretically which shows him throwing and taking all kinds of punches and kicks; A man blows ashes into the face of another man and then grabs him and jumps off of a balcony, presumably to their deaths; And some other action related violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.