Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and director Guy Ritchie return for another prance through Victorian England with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The first film had its charms in its affable chemistry between the film’s leads and Ritchie’s energetic direction but the second falls flat. Nothing new is brought to the table and what’s expected to pass muster again, merely feels like a rote exercise in repetition and monotony. The film is as dull and forgettable as the title suggests.
Downey’s Sherlock Holmes is now pitted against his arch nemesis Dr. Moriarty, played with tedium by Jared Harris, though the rest of the story is barely worth summarizing, mostly because I’ve forgotten most of it. Needless, to say it’s all about big action and large set pieces. As the plot goes on about some international conspiracies and the march to war, the audience pleasantly sleeps only to be woken up by the large speed-ramped explosions provided by Ritchie.
The only thought that raced across my mind as the forgettable story striving for some sort of epic scope flitted across the screen was how unnecessary this all felt. While Stephen Moffat has been crafting one of the best screen representations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s intrepid hero yet over on the BBC, Ritchie and company have done their damnedest to turn the character into Indiana Jones and a big, buff action hero. While there are certainly action hero elements to the original character, all sense of mystery and ingenuity has fled the character in this version. In its place are rapid fire witticisms and observations followed by stylistic flashes of brilliance as we march forward from set piece to set piece with little rhyme or reason why anyone should care.
The strengths of the first film are still the strengths of this film but only less so. Downey and Law, as loyal sidekick Dr. Watson, still bounce off each other very well but the repartee is lacking the snap and jaunty fun that made the first film watchable. While their chemistry is still good, everything around them, including a script credited to Michele and Kieran Mulroney, got so much worse. Ritchie’s creative stylistic flourish is also still somewhat good and give the action scenes some much-needed pop in doses but becomes overwrought and dull through overuse. Noomi Rapace, the original Lisbeth Salander, has been added to the film to give some feminine energy to the proceedings but she is given little else to do. She plays a gypsy who follows our adventurers along on their journey to find her missing brother but the story is given such short shrift and her character so little to do, one wonders why the character was introduced at all.
Since Downey’s remarkable career resurgence with Iron Man in 2008, it feels as if the actor and the filmmakers he’s been working with have been coasting ever since, relying on Downey’s remarkable reserve of energy and charm to win over audiences and elevate their films. While it worked for Iron Man and, in some respects, Sherlock Holmes, their respective sequels have buckled under that pressure providing nothing for the actor to work with as a result. Movies can get by on only so much charm and, while Downey certainly isn’t lacking, the films he is working on certainly are. Lack of a coherent script, muddled and unimpressive direction, confused editing, and an overall drab, dark look make the film not just unimpressive but ugly as well. Ritchie’s efforts to turn Sherlock Holmes from charmed, brilliant detective, to high-wire action hero have failed in every conceivable way with this lackluster sequel and when Moffat’s Sherlock is providing some of the best mysteries on television, that failure becomes even more pronounced.
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