Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Sherlock Holmes and Dr.John Watson in ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’, the first sequel to Guy Ritchie’s big intentional hit in 2009. I enjoyed many of Guy Ritchie’s previous films, including ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, ‘Snatch’, ‘RockNRolla’, and the first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ picture. Which is why I’m bummed to report that this sequel is one of the worst films of 2011 (and since we’re approaching the end of the year, I can guarantee that it will occupy a spot on my Bottom 10 films of 2011).
The plot, which will probably be of little importance to most viewers, is nonsensical and convoluted, but I’ll do my best to explain it. It’s the late 1800s and tension escalates between “those who speak German and those who speak French”, something that was plotted by Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). He owns shares in multiple war-profiting companies and plans on instigating a war to make a fortune. Along comes detective Sherlock Holmes and he’s convinced Moriarty is the culprit, but needs further data. Holmes seeks out a gypsy named Simza (Noomi Rapace from the Swedish version of the ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’), who he believes knows something about what’s happening. After defeating an assassin sent to kill the gypsy, Holmes, Simza, and Dr.Watson embark on a journey to prove Moriarty is the mastermind behind recent assassinations, bombings, and try to prevent him from starting a war.
Robert Downey Jr. is actively involved in two franchises at the moment – ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Can we forgive him for appearing bored of his own character here? He spits out his lines quickly in a British accent, sports various costumes and disguises including going drag, but doesn’t seem like he’s having much fun as the title character. Or he could just be in a rush to collect his paycheque. Halfway through ‘Sherlock Holmes 2’, the audience is treated to a several-minute montage with Holmes riding a pony as his companions race ahead of him in their horses. This is one scene that illustrates a big problem with the picture. There’s no construction in the comedy – a comic scenario is set up and seems funny initially, but then it goes on endlessly until the joke becomes unfunny and annoying. It’s the equivalent of taking a good joke and telling it badly, which Guy Ritchie does repeatedly throughout this sequel.
As mentioned above, the comedy isn’t really directed, but neither is the action. Ritchie reutilizes the slow-motion fight scenes he demonstrated in the first film. We see the Holmes character figuring out what his opponent will do, thought for thought, blow for blow. Again, it’s a neat technique that’s visually interesting the first time, but Ritchie (not being familiar with the less is more approach) injects the same visual trick repeatedly through the film until it becomes exhausting. Even the grey, bleak background from the first film is used again here, but this time, it drains the action and excitement from the picture. Repetition and sameness seem to be the two major elements which hurt this film the most.
Also, this story of world dominance feels like something out of a James Bond film. There’s no mystery or suspense, and nothing really seems at stake. The main villain isn’t particularly memorable. In one scene, Moriarty rams Holmes onto a meat hook, nearly bleeding him to death. It’s a pretty dark scene that is completely out of tone with the rest of the picture (which has a campy, slapstick feel). The chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Judd Law is still present, but their constant bickering bromance grows tired rather quickly.
My criticism has nothing to do with the spirit of the original ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories. I don’t care about that. I care about the results of the revisionist approach to this film, and unfortunately Guy Ritchie has travestied Conan Doyle’s creation of the greatest criminal investigator of the century. I should note that at the end of my screening, several members of the audience applauded the film in appreciation. This means I could be in the minority on this one, but I’m fairly certain that a second (or third or x’th) viewing won’t change my mind. Holy tedium, ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ was one of the most boring cinematic experiences I had in 2011.
– Jerry Nadarajah