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Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows Suffers From Action Overload

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney based on characters by Arthur Conan Doyle
Warner Bros., 2011

There’s nothing less exhilarating than when I watch a mystery, the clues are never set before me, and the mystery is getting solved off-screen.  Despite a great conclusion, the latest Sherlock Holmes movie is far more interested in fighting and guns (and hilariously gay antics) than it is in being in the least cerebral and giving its audience the chance to be an active participant in solving the mystery.

In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Sherlock (Robert Downey, Jr., good as always) is in the middle of a cat and mouse, or rather fisherman and trout, game with his nemesis Dr. Moriarty (the excellent Jared Harris).  Holmes is trying to ruin Moriarty’s plans, whatever they may be, and the cost for Holmes is that his loved ones find themselves in danger.  Thus, Holmes’ good friend and ambiguously gay buddy Dr. Watson (Jude Law), Watson’s wife Mary (Kelly Reilly), and somewhat girlfriend Irene Adler (Rachel MacAdams) are all involved in a game of wits and blood.  Also, we get to see Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who is also wacky.  Those Holmes brothers.

Holmes is trying to figure out the connection of Moriarty to several high-profile murders involving big business magnates, and where he might strike next.  Holmes’ investigation leads him to gypsy fortune teller Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Repace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).  Her brother Rene is a specialist in a terrorist movement and his skills are attractive to Moriarty, so Holmes is looking for him to stop the next big killing, which could have huge political implications and lead to World War…in 1891.

So what we have here are huge action sequences on a train and in a large secret munitions factory, and Holmes’ intuition and intellect is used mostly for how he’s going to fight someone–which was cool in the first one but goes into massive slow-motion overload in the second.  There are several times in the movie where Holmes figures something out from minor or downright subjective clues, clues you’ll be straining your eyes to see while the camera bolts and darts through a blurry, gray murky mess of what Sherlock is apparently seeing, that don’t add up.  His ability to locate a secret room through a fantasy I never quite grasped (because it’s so dark and the clues could have literally been anything) was one of the most, “Yeah, right,” moments of the year (a year that includes the whole of Transformers 3).

When we finally get to the conclusion, the mystery is solved in a satisfying manner–but we never get to take that trip.  Lots of the times we see Holmes actually doing some investigative work, it’s told in flashback as an aside.  The a huge part of the mystery getting solved also includes a crypto-key that is done entirely off camera, until it is shown in flashback.  But no need to bore people with cryptology when you can show Holmes and Watson dancing together, or getting tangled up intimately while Holmes wears a dress, and onto the next action sequence!

You know what would have been a great movie and way better than this?  How about we get a chance to see Sherlock and Mycroft basically team up and battle wits with each other, with contributions from the Watsons (Mary Watson gets her due here, but it’s contrived in the manner they show it), and devious red herrings and intellectual challenges from Moriarty, with death hanging in the balance.  By the way, when we see Sherlock in flashback in disguise observing Moriarty, it broke all of my suspension of disbelief to acknowledge that Moriarty couldn’t recognize Holmes even once.  Moriarty knows Holmes’ methods, and the fact that he lets his guard down in this area is a glaring hole in the plot.

Ultimately, I was let down by this product pandering to apparently action-starved audiences.  If Sherlock Holmes can’t be a real detective, then he is an action hero.  He might as well be played by Bruce Willis and called John McClane.   I thought the first one was a good start even though it wasn’t great, and I expected a lot out of this one.  This is a major disappointment for me.

Follows: Sherlock Holmes


Comment from Jonathan
Time: December 20, 2011, 7:26 am

Just saw this last night and I agree with your assessment. I didn’t even find the climax all that interesting. Jared Harris and Stephen Fry are nice additions (but how could they not be), but other than that I just didn’t have much use for it. You should most definitely check out Sherlock Season 1 (I believe it’s still on Netflix instant); Benedict Cumberbatch is a brilliant modern day version of Holmes and these are the mysteries that you can follow along with nicely and possibly solve yourself. A lot of fun. Martin Freeman is also in it as Watson. Good stuff all around. As much as I love the idea of a big budget studio version of Holmes, if this is the best they can do I’d rather they just leave it alone.

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