Movie Review: ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’

The key to making a successful sequel to a popular film is maintaining the same features that made the first film great, while at the same time bringing something fresh and new to the story. And that’s exactly what “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” does.

The film is a follow-up to director Guy Ritchie’s surprise 2009 hit, “Sherlock Holmes,” which brought a touch of steampunk to the classic literary tale and portrayed the famous detective as an edgier, more rough and tumble character than Hollywood has typically portrayed him in the past (although some could argue Ritchie’s vision isn’t entirely out of line with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories).

The sequel, “A Game of Shadows,” picks up pretty much where its predecessor left off, with Holmes (played by Robert Downey Jr.) scrambling to learn more about the man who will become his most infamous and most dangerous foe: Professor James Moriarty. Holmes and his assistant and best friend Dr. John Watson (played by Jude Law) must figure out how to stop Moriarty, who is both fanning the flames of rising political conflict and looking to profit when war finally erupts. While the first film was set primarily in Victorian England, this time Holmes and Watson’s travels take them across Europe, including stops in France and Germany, and a final confrontation with Moriarty in Switzerland.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the plot, because part of the fun of the film is working along with Holmes and Watson as they piece together the clues and try to unravel Moriarty’s plan. But I very much enjoyed the film, and if you enjoyed the first Sherlock Holmes film, you’ll probably like this one as well.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law prove once again they were perfect choices for their roles. Before watching the original film, if you’d asked me who I thought should play Holmes and Watson, Downey and Law probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind. But after seeing the film, I can’t imagine anyone else playing those roles. Downey’s Holmes is brilliant, eccentric, and highly egotistical, but he truly cares about his friend Watson and would do anything to save him. Law’s Watson is more mild-mannered, but no less brilliant, than his friend Sherlock Holmes, and though Holmes’ unusual habits frequently exasperate him, he looks out for his friend. Hollywood tends to portray Watson as more of a bumbling, often clueless character, so it’s very refreshing to see him presented as more of Holmes’ equal in Ritchie’s version of the story.

Downey and Law also are joined in this film by Jared Harris, who plays Professor Moriarty. Harris resists the temptation to make Moriarty into a maudlin, over-dramatic villain, and his quietly sinister portrayal makes the character all the more menacing. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is he and Holmes’ chess match at the very end of the film — a scene that perfectly showcases the dynamic between the two characters.

The cinematography in the film is great, with possibly the best use of slow motion I’ve ever seen in a movie. Ritchie brings back a technique I really loved in the first movie, where he stops the clock and shows Holmes analyzing in slow motion how he is going to react to a situation (for example, he analyzes step by step how to bring down an attacker). Then, Ritchie speeds up the camera to normal speed, and we get to see Holmes act out in real-time what he’d just analyzed in his mind.

Also worth mentioning is another great score from film composer Hans Zimmer. His soundtrack to the first “Sherlock Holmes” movie was creative, quirky and very original (I loved the clanky, slightly out of tune piano playing on the film’s main theme), and Zimmer doesn’t disappoint on the sequel.

I really enjoyed this film, and I’m looking forward to watching it again so I can pick out all the details I missed the first time. To view a trailer for the film or production photos, visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1515091.

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