Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows Review

Two years ago, audiences were delighted by "Sherlock Holmes", the latest take on the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character. The movie was fresh, original, and offered something new to moviegoers thanks to not only great performances on the part of Robert Downey Jr. as the title character as well as Jude Law as his partner in crime, Watson, but also thanks to the unique directing techniques of Guy Ritchie, as well as a wonderful score by none other than Hans Zimmer.

But it's hard to recreate magic twice. Just about everyone was excited at the prospect of a Sherlock Holmes sequel, but now that we've got it, in the form of "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows", are we satisfied?

Well, let's put it this way. If you didn't see 2009's Sherlock Holmes, then you were probably very satisfied with its sequel. If however you did see the original film, then you might be left feeling a little disappointed after viewing A Game of Shadows.

It's not that the sequel is bad. In fact, it's entertaining and features all the same components that made Sherlock Holmes so wonderful and fresh in 2009. But that's exactly the problem. Ritchie and everyone involved don't really bother changing anything considerable in the formula in their second go-around, and as viewers, we're left feeling that we're watching the same film we did two years ago. And that's not necessarily a feeling you want walking out of a theater.

In some cases, copying a formula for a sequel can work. For instance, I think I was one of the few people who actually liked The Hangover: Part II, because it made its concept into a joke. The protagonists in that film were put into the exact same situations as the first movie, but that in itself was the joke, which, to me, made it funny. But in other cases, like another Robert Downey Jr. franchise, Iron Man, you want the film to take you places it didn't in the first installment.

Sherlock Holmes 2 falls into the category of the latter. While a comedy can get away from copying a formula, it's a little more difficult to pull off with an action film, because as a viewer, you tend to go into it wondering how the filmmakers will put their main characters into danger this time, and how they will try to raise the bar. At a glance, Sherlock Holmes 2 offers pretty much none of that, opting instead to stick with what it knows best. It makes for an entertaining film, no doubt about it, but one that feels unnecessary. If someone presented me with the option of watching A Game of Shadows, or re-watching Sherlock Holmes 1 on the big screen, knowing this, I'd probably go with watching the first one.

It's kind of a pointless venture. Holmes is presented with a new challenge, he puts on a few disguises, crafts a contraption or two, gets himself into a sticky situation, and then we find out it was somehow his plan all along to do everything that it seemed like he did wrong. Along the way, Watson resists his flare for adventure, some lady gets involved, and we get oh so many stylized slow-motion scenes from the director.

The only way Ritchie and company make any attempt to raise the bar is in the way they put Sherlock Holmes in danger. Robert Downey Jr. spends most of the first film making an ass out of people, and while he does that a lot this time, the writers felt the need to try and make us believe his character was dead several times in the movie, which makes no sense. He's the title character and the studio would be stupid to let him be killed off and ruin the chances of future films. I know this may sound like a spoiler, but who are we kidding, you know Sherlock Holmes isn't going to die, so what's the point of trying to make us believe that does? It does nothing for the plot.

Then there's the slow motion. Holmes' way of analyzing situations such as fights before they happen was novel in the first film, and it's still sort of fun in this one, but it's way overused. An entire sequence in a wooded area with Holmes and his friends running away from the bad guys and their canons constantly switches between slow motion and regular speed, and it's nauseating, annoying, and a little pointless.

The film's strengths are in the chemistry between its characters. Jude Law and Downey Jr. bounce off each other perfectly and make for great allies. Stephen Fry is also great in his role as Shelrock's brother, Mycroft. The original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, joins the cast as Sim, and Jared Harris does the Moriarty role justice. Protagonists and antagonists are all great together on screen, and whatever problems we might have with the script and directing are often covered by the charm of the cast. That said, there is little to no character development in the sequel, which is very frustrating.

But that's not enough. It's not enough to have Robert Downey Jr. smirking coyly at the screen for 2 hours, analyzing fights and putting on disguises. It's not enough to lean heavily on one or two directing techniques that seemed unique two years ago, or quite frankly, pretty much copy the same score from the first film (sorry, Hans Zimmer, you know we love you). It takes more to make a good film, especially a good sequel, and it seems like everyone involved just pretty much phoned it in.

We expect more from Sherlock Holmes. That's why A Game of Shadows gets a 6.5 out of 10.