“Careful what you fish for”

I am and probably always will be a Guy Ritchie apologist. I blamed Madonna for Swept Away and even bought a Region 2 DVD of Revolver in case it never made its way across the Atlantic. So when the director signed on to do a blockbuster studio version of Sherlock Holmes, I wasn’t sure what to think. On one hand it’s success would mean the hoped for sequel to RocknRolla had a better chance of seeing the light of day, but on the other it meant possibly pulling back on the over-the-top theatrics fans have come to love from the Brit. I was pleasantly surprised then that he was able to retain his trademark style and humor with a wonderfully fun duo of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. This had to be as good a modern version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s masterwork as could be created.

Well, that’s what I thought until my girlfriend introduced me to Steven Moffat‘s UK-series“Sherlock”. Here was a Holmes as sociopathic, selfish, and cerebral as Downey Jr.’s—or even Hugh Laurie‘s House for that matter—devoid of human constraints like guilt, fear, or love. A real abrasiveness was on display as the detective’s coarse actions cultivated his own brand of cerebral humor without the need of sarcastic quips or snide little games. Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock is real—a serious man engaging in work with real consequences rather than the pulpy, comic book escapades of his big screen brother. And that’s not to say Ritchie’s vision is wrong or bad or worse. It’s just different. Six months ago I would have been clamoring to see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Now I’ve been spoiled.

With that said, this sequel is a worthy successor. Taking place an unknown period of time after the original, the lives of its stars seem to have carried on swimmingly since we last saw them. Dr. Watson (Law) is readying for his nuptials with Mary (Kelly Reilly); Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) has remained as duplicitous as possible partaking in nefarious deeds at the enigmatic Professor James Moriarty’s (Jared Harris) behest; and Sherlock (Downey Jr.) has invested himself wholly into a new mystery based on paranoia and long nights drinking formaldehyde alone. Now a master of disguise, Holmes hasn’t locked himself inside with his thoughts this time around, though. He’s out and about tracking anonymous bombs assumed to be the work of political conflict as a rainforest jungle grows inside his apartment.

A bit long-winded with more lulls than its equally long predecessor, Dermot Mulroney‘s brother Kieran and his wife Michele have crafted a tale equal parts action-packed and intellectually stimulating. Ritchie mark is left on the fight scenes again shown in slomotion deduction before actually fought—a stale effect that achieves some freshness with a riveting chase through the woods and a climactic fight between archnemeses that occurs completely as hypothesis. Less dark without Mark Strong‘s sorcerous mad man, these choreographed scuffles serve as nice flourishes to combat the more heady mystery containing mostly cat and mouse looks across the room and perfectly placed chess pieces. While Sherlock Holmesbolstered its brains versus brains dynamic with its fair share of brawn, A Game of Shadowsrelies heavily on deciphering motivations and discovering evidence to stop a potential World War without as much muscle needed.

As such, it almost appears as though the Mulroneys created Noomi Rapace‘s character Simza to merely serve as the tale’s female figure. Wasted as more damsel in distress than badass cohort, her main purpose in the film is to help identify a killer she doesn’t have the ability to identify. A true MacGuffin in the strictest sense of the term, Simza’s one purpose is to allow Downey Jr. and Law to have fun with Gypsies. She isn’t even necessary for throwing estrogen in the mix since Reilly’s Mrs. Watson could have been given more than the expanded plate already allowing her to shine opposite the aloof and dryly hystericalStephen Fry. Playing Holmes’ brother Mycroft, Fry adds a completely different persona to the game and shows Mary how her new husband’s best friend may not be so bad after all.

But while these characters come and go to varying degrees of importance, the success of the film hinges on the Holmes and Watson versus Moriarty clash we would assume will last over a series of stories. It’s a Batman/Joker push and pull that deserves better than the outlandish ending given here—I really do implore you to check out “Sherlock” if only forAndrew Scott‘s brilliant Jim Moriarity. Downey Jr. and Law have their chemistry working again and do bring a lot of laughs, but there is something about Harris going up against a foe of equal worth that steals the show. A bit over-the-top with a sequence of singing and a wry smile when acknowledging he’s been beat, Harris’s Moriarty is a treat that I wish were given more time to work his magic.

With a sniper sidekick in Paul Anderson‘s stoic Colonel Sebastian Moran, the villainy is on par with Strong’s successfully excessive brooding from the first. You get a sense that Holmes has met his match, but leading them on a path towards resolution might have been a mistake. We need to see their relationship evolve and grow; watch their detest mix with respect to the point where they’d do anything to beat the other yet never want the game to end. I think the filmmakers should have introduced Moriarity in the background of the first more by alluding to his involvement in the main mystery but not quite pulling the rug out yet. Or maybe make this film the trilogy cap and create a second to do so. A little familiarity would have been nice before going full-bore into the adversarial fight we hope lasts. Needing an implausibly contrived trick to extend the plot into a third film is cheap and my suspension of disbelief allotment has already been reached.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 7/10