The filmmakers of both Sherlock Holmes films, directed by Guy Ritchie, have re-imagined Holmes as a steampunk James Bond. Holmes is constantly chasing or being chased, using Bond gadgets and protecting or fighting Bond girl types. He travels to glamorous locales in between numerous gun battles and explosions—many, many explosions. There’s also a Bond-type super villian with an evil plot to destroy the world: Professor Moriarty, a man who is hyped as Holmes’ intellectual equal. And as with any good Bond villain, Moriarty has a capable and deadly Number Two, the sharpshooting Colonel Sebastian Moran, to do his dirty work.
In other words, this sequel is more of the same. Is that bad? That depends on how you felt with the first one. I asked my movie-going companion how she felt this sequel fared compared to the original, and she had the same answer I had: she couldn’t say because she couldn’t remember much from the original. 2009’s Sherlock Holmes felt a lot like the Pirates of Caribbean franchise to me: lots of good action, but very little to take away other than the lead actor was fun to watch and that the damn thing was at least 15 minutes too long.
Like the Pirates movies, these new Sherlock Holmes films have a lot going for them. There are some admittedly awesome special effects going on here: slo-mo and 360º everything, bad-ass fight scenes with Holmes mapping out fight sequences in advance, and again, things blowing up real good. (As my companion pointed out, effects like going inside the workings of a gun and watching the gears turn as it’s fired are definitely “shiny.”)
And I can’t fault the acting. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect for this version of Sherlock Holmes, and ditto for Jude Law’s Dr. Watson. They had good chemistry in the original, and that carries over to the sequel. Professor Moriarty is aptly played by Jared Harris, whom you may know from Mad Men. Harris has brilliant evil down pat, and his character has the right amounts of sadistic malevolence and playfulness. Like any Bond villain, Moriarty wants to destroy Holmes, but he wants to beat him first.
I also enjoyed the plot, of which I won’t reveal much of here, and overall, despite my apparent grumpiness, I have to admit that I had a good time watching this film. But shouldn’t Holmes…I don’t know…detect more? Like, with clues and whatnot? It’s great to have the wonderful Stephen Fry as brother Mycroft, a kick-ass musical score, Victorian Europe effectively reproduced with CGI, and a few touching scenes and humorous exchanges between Holmes and Watson…but is that really what Sherlock Holmes is all about? Although the train scene around the middle of the movie is a truly great action scene, should Holmes and Watson even be on that train in the first place?
The answer is no, but I’m still recommending seeing Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Life is full of moral complexities, I suppose, and I can’t deny that this was a worthy sequel and a good way to spend a couple of hours on a cold night. It’s just that you might not remember much of it in two years.