When you’re making a sequel to a surprisingly successful movie, there’s always the question of whether it will live up to expectations. This goes doubly so when said sequel is bringing in a classic villain.
And thus we have the dilemma that faces Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Not only does it have to follow in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes, which was so very much fun, but it brought in Moriarty, Holmes’s greatest enemy.
In A Game of Shadows, Holmes has buried himself in untangling a conspiracy involving bombings and assassinations that are slowly pushing the world to the brink of war. Though he knows Professor James Moriarty is behind it, Holmes does not yet know the how or the why.
He “encourages” the newlywed Watson to come with him to continental Europe, where they engage in a deadly game, fighting to get one step ahead of the devious Moriarty, perhaps the only man in the world who rivals Holmes’s prodigious intellect.
Admittedly, the movie gets off to a rocky start. Though it’s nice to see Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) again, the beginning chase and fight just doesn’t grab you the same way as the first scene in Sherlock Holmes. It seems a little lighter, perhaps because it’s taking place during the day, rather than at night, and involves more verbal sparring between Holmes and Adler.
In fact, it’s not until Adler has her meeting with Moriarty that the movie really finds its footing. (And talk about a great way to introduce the face of the man we only saw in shadows in the previous film. We see just how powerful Moriarty really is and how far his reach extends.) But once it does, it settles in and takes off.
Both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson, respectively, and they’re just as good in this movie as they were in the first one. After we left the movie, my brother said he would watch a movie that was nothing but Holmes and Watson talking for two hours, and I have to agree.
They bicker like an old married couple, and there are many times you wouldn’t blame Watson for punching Holmes in the face. However, they are still best friends, and that comes through no matter what they do.
Casting Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother, was a stroke of genius. Fry is a phenomenal actor, and he fits Mycroft like a glove. He steals the show every time he’s on screen, and the scene between him and Watson’s wife, Mary, is just hilarious.
But the most compelling part of the movie is easily the game between Holmes and Moriarty. For once, Holmes has found someone who is his mental equal, and that makes their every interaction tense and fascinating, as each tries to outwit and out-think the other.
Each time they come together, it stands out: their initial meeting, the powerfully silent encounter at the opera, and most especially, their final confrontation. The chess game between the two is absolutely brilliant, and more than makes up for the slow beginning.
And I would be remiss talking about this movie without mentioning the score, which I have listened to virtually nonstop since I purchased it the day after Christmas. Hans Zimmer really outdoes himself with this one. It expands on some of the musical themes from the first movie and adds some really excellent new ones on its own. (Listen to “Romanian Wind,” if you get a chance, and I dare you not to dance at least a little when you hear it.)
Of course, there were aspects that didn’t work. Though Noomi Rapace did a good job as Sim, the gypsy woman who aids Holmes and Watson in their search, she was not quite as memorable as the other characters. Plus, the “fight vision,” where Holmes predicts a fight and the moves his opponents will make before having the fight itself, has a slightly different format, and it doesn’t work quite as well as it did in the first movie.
But really, those are minor nitpicks. Overall, A Game of Shadows is an entertaining movie and a worthy successor to the first one. If you get a chance, go see it in theaters. And if you don’t get a chance to catch it in theaters, be sure to rent it the second you can.
Pictures from ComingSoon.net and most likely copyright Warner Bros. Pictures.