‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ Review

Published 2 years ago by

Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows starring Robert Downey Jr. Jude Law and Jared Harris Review Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Review

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Guy Ritchie defied the odds with his 2009 reboot of Sherlock Holmes: Ritchie managed to take Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective and turn him into a kick-ass, crime-solving action hero that modern audiences by and large loved – thanks in no small part to the roughish charms and quick wit of star Robert Downey Jr. With Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Ritchie attempts to expand the world his revamped detective inhabits, while also doing justice to the famous rivalry between Holmes and his longtime nemesis, diabolical genius Professor Moriarty.

So, is the sequel a bigger and better followup to its predecessor? Or do Ritchie and his cast fail to recapture the freshness and fun of the first film?

A Game of Shadows picks up shortly after the first Sherlock Holmes, with the brilliant detective (Downey Jr.) drawn even deeper into his manic quest to unravel the web of murder, corruption and blackmail that Moriarty has woven. Meanwhile, Holmes’ longtime companion Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is preparing to wed fiancé Mary (Kelly Reilly) and leave the life of crime-solving behind. After Holmes gets hold of a few pivotal clues about Moriarty’s nefarious plot, the evil genius decides that he has been putting off the problem of Sherlock Holmes for far too long, and decides to strike at the detective by targeting those closest to him.

Moriarty Attacks in Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Review

Moriarty Attacks

Holmes manages to wrangle the honeymooning Watson into helping solve this final case, and the two begin an odyssey across Europe, following each subsequent clue they discover to the next strand in Moriarty’s web. However, even with the help of allies like Sherlock’s brilliant (but lazy) brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), or knife-wielding gypsy, Sim (Noomi Rapace), for every step Holmes and Watson take forward, they find that Moriarty is already two steps further ahead.

A Game of Shadows retains most of the best qualities of the first film: Downey’s charm; the witty banter and strong chemistry between Holmes and Watson; the slow-motion sequences that illustrate Holmes’ analytical powers at work; action sequences shot in Guy Ritchie’s signature hyper-kinetic style; and the Steampunk aesthetic that makes the 19th century setting feel fresh and interesting, without breaking too far from the realities of the period.

On top of keeping all those elements intact, the sequel adds a wonderful villain in the form of Moriarty, who is realized onscreen in the best possible way by Mad Men actor Jared Harris. Moriarty is a sociopath hiding in plain sight: whether he’s delivering a lecture at university, hatching a terrorist strike, or directly threatening Holmes, the mad genius never loses his staunch English formality and soft-spoken demeanor, making him all the more disturbing.

Jarred Harris as Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Review

Jarred Harris as Moriarty in 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

Harris is fantastic in the role, letting only the devilish glint in his eyes betray the true cauldron of insanity bubbling under Moriarty’s carefully composed surface. He and Downey have a fantastic chemistry, wherein Holmes and Moriarty are two sides of the same coin, and have just as much respect for one another’s intellect as they do disdain for how the other man chooses to use it. The final showdown between the two foes is tense, creative, and very well crafted – arguably the best onscreen rivalry this side of Batman and The Joker.

That all said, however, the story (by relatively untested screenwriters Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney) is very formulaic in its progression, and basically amounts to Holmes and Watson traipsing through Europe from set piece to set piece. Some viewers may buy into the notion that Moriarty and Holmes’ cat-and-mouse game is actually smart in its twists and turns – but really this is your standard point A to point B to point C movie, and most of the so-called “twists” are anything but.

As someone who was critical of the first film’s approach to “mystery,” I can say that Game of Shadows made me yearn for the faux-supernatural parlor tricks of Lord Blackwood. In trying to (once again) bend the facts of history to suit the fiction of their story, the screenwriters ultimately fail to concoct a scheme worthy of the evil genius hatching it. And like the first film, the use of flashbacks – revealing that previous moments in the film were not at all what we’d assumed – still teeters dangerously close to line of deus ex machina (not that many viewers will notice, or particularly care).

Noomi Rapace in Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Review

Noomi Rapace in 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

The other downside of the film is that it is very shallow in terms of character development. Game of Shadows contains a subplot dealing with the dwindling bromance between the detective and his associate, as Watson tries to embrace his new life with Mary, sans his eccentric friend. Whether due to the nonstop onslaught of action, or the simple fact that they are too cool for significant emoting (even when called for), the whole Holmes/Watson relationship troubles are a flimsy, peripheral plot point, masked as understated inference. Also wasted are the talents of actors like Fry and Rapace, whose characters are little more than hollow plot devices that help push Holmes and Watson toward their next destination.

One particularly admirable thing about the first film is that it lends some complexity to Holmes’ character: Despite all his manic bravado, the film revealed that Holmes is actually isolated and lonely as a result of his brilliance and analytical prowess – as was wonderfully illustrated in the scene where Holmes, Watson and Mary sat down to dinner for the first time in the first film. Game of Shadows presents several instances where the detective’s vulnerabilities are seemingly going to be explored at greater depth – only to drop those opportunities in favor of another action sequence.

Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Review

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

In fact, instead of going deeper into the character, Downey follows the ill-fated path that Johnny Depp did with his Jack Sparrow character: playing things so over-the-top that it borders on cartoonish (just try to pick out a scene where Holmes ISN’T wearing some ridiculous disguise and/or is engaged in some sort of schtick). In the end, it’s actually Jude Law who ends up giving the more impressive performance, carefully conveying the internal struggle Watson endures while trying to decide where his loyalties lie.

Despite some definite drawbacks, however, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a fairly good action/adventure film, made better by the charisma of its main players. While the film is sure to entertain those who like a nonstop action flick with a few comedic moments, anyone looking to get deeper into the character of Sherlock Holmes, or see something different in the way Ritchie approaches him, are going to be disappointed. This franchise ain’t broke, and the filmmakers certainly didn’t try to fix it. Same Sherlock, different day.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is currently playing in theaters.

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Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)


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  1. This one is a dog. It’s beyond ridiculous. It’s what Hollywood does worst: a lobotomized sequel rushed to cash in on what only worked with an adult-level script. Consider the ‘dramatic’ finale. How does Genius Holmes outfox Moriarty? His brilliant strategy? Murder-suicide. Clever? Accordingly, he and Moriarty plunge more than 100 feet. Into a river.. In winter… Odds of survival from that height – zero. Assuming anyone miraculously could survive? OK then: a quick death from hypothermia and drowning. Forget Mycroft’s oxygen breathing apparatus, hypothermia doesn’t care whether you get oxygen. Exit a river in winter – you do not survive. It’s over. End of Sherlock franchise. But that’s just the fake climax. Character arc? None. Script? Did seven-year-old game fanatics do this? The genius of Holmes and Moriarty? It never shows. Need more stupidity? Holmes pushes Watson’s wife from a moving train, off a bridge and into another river. In winter… She must survive this idiocy because brother Mycroft waits below in a boat. Why this idiotic sequence? Because Holmes foresaw everything – except the expedience of taking The Watsons to a different train. After you have reviewed all you have seen, the wasted talent, all the preposterous fight scenes, the plot’s black holes, it becomes obvious. Whatever else it cost in time and money: it was a waste – for everyone.

    • I would have to agree with you. It DID expand the universe with a few NEW characters, but otherwise the story seemed off. Moriarty’s evil “genious” was implyed, that’s all! UGH.

    • I would’ve gave it another star if they had ended it instead of keeping it ongoing. The overall story was too much like “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen” to suit me and Moriarty’s red book, wasn’t executed very well. It came off as wrangling to outsmart the audience no matter how smart they are. I think Kofi called it pretty good 3 out of 5 in my book…

    • Completely disagree (you must have been watching a different movie).

      “Consider the ‘dramatic’ finale. How does Genius Holmes outfox Moriarty? His brilliant strategy? Murder-suicide. Clever? Accordingly, he and Moriarty plunge more than 100 feet. Into a river.. In winter… Odds of survival from that height – zero. Assuming anyone miraculously could survive? OK then: a quick death from hypothermia and drowning. Forget Mycroft’s oxygen breathing apparatus, hypothermia doesn’t care whether you get oxygen. Exit a river in winter – you do not survive. It’s over. End of Sherlock franchise. But that’s just the fake climax.”

      –I’m guessing you never read the books? Because if in fact you did, you would never have made such a silly statement.

    • Perfect review for this awful movie, walked out 90 minutes into the film, borderline unwatchable.

    • Those fight scenes were sick.

    • LOl… The climax scene was taken from the proposed last book of sherlock holmes adventure!!! so like it or not, authur conan doyle is the one to blame!! :)

    • it’s not supposed to be realistic…it’s archetypal….and genius..We read comic books and admire the dark knight stuff just fine without this ridiculous over-attention to detail.
      No great archetypal adventure could survive such scrutiny…it isn’t meant to. It’s a romp in dreamland for the sole purpose of dealing with undercurrents of our emotions …and it is fantastic as such.
      If we sat around thinking about all the REALISTIC things that could happen or go wrong during such events, clearly Holmes would have never made it…the real world is DANGEROUS and PROBLEMATICAL
      and you are whining about realism
      Plausism or just the tiniest hint of plausiblity is more than enough for these stories.
      They are meant to encourage us, and inspire us..as we are way too afraid of the world to REALLY deal with our issures..as is apparent by your extreme disappointment
      and also apparent by how we treat each other, our food, and how we poison our home
      so…enjoy these stories and learn from them in the broad strokes they are intended to teach you with, or don’t watch them…but please don’t nitpick them into nothingdom like a bunch of whiny teenaged boys

  2. you know what made me pissed off???rotten tomatoes gave this 59%…59%!!!

  3. you know what made me pissed off???rotten tomatoes gave this 59%

  4. Sherlock Holmes 2 was FINALLY released in South-Africa today and I have to say (in my opinion) it was LEGEN-waitforit-DARY!
    Definitely used a lot more of the source material/the books than the first one (which is awesome) and I have no doubt in saying, it was almost as good as the first one (SH1 got a 5 out of 5 from me, but SH2 managed a 4.5 out of 5).
    The only thing that bugged me was that they went a LITTLE overboard: plastic surgery, huge guns and snipers – most of those things weren’t as advanced/precise as they seemed in the movie, until the 20th century.

    Still, it was the best movie of 2011 (that I’ve seen – and I’ve seen most, excluding HP7.2 and all the bad ones).
    Recommendation to those who have not seen it: (you guessed it) GO SEE IT NOW!

  5. I thought that this second installment was actually an improvement upon the first and I found this film to be very entertaining from all angles (it was funny, sad, action packed, thought provoking, etc).

    Although I don’t think that the movie was perfect. The storyline was a bit out there and at times hard to follow (definitely a movie for the adult audience that likes to pay close attention to the movie). Also, I feel that Moriarty could have been played out better; he was more of a behind the scenes villain.

    Other than that I really liked this movie and, as usual, Downy Jr. had me cracking up the whole time. And Guy Ritchie’s directing was nothing short of spectacular in the film. Looking forward to a sequel, and hopefully and wrapping conclusion to this franchise

    • Agreed

    • Completely agree.
      Although, you did say “I feel that Moriarty could have been played out better; he was more of a behind the scenes villain.” — in the books, he was in fact a behind the scenes villain (he hardly did any of his own “dirty work”), so in that respect, SH2 was actually quite faithful to the source material.

  6. 2nd best movie for the year that I’ve seen and had no complaints.

  7. Great Movie. Very Humerous! A sure 8/10!

  8. In my own opinion this was the best movie of the year and one of the best all time.

  9. One of the best movies of the year.
    Fans of the first film will find it on par with it if not better.
    Read my in-depth review at:

  10. Wow, what a movie, juicy dialouges, fantastic plot, the movie moves quickly and my rating 5/5..The actors are spot on, FULL ENTERTAINMENT!!

  11. I thought it was pretty awesome!

  12. I didn’t notice until seeing the second SH movie that the depiction of Holmes reminds of Limitless. A LOT. Or maybe Limitless reminds me of SH (since SH1 was first).

  13. Although I have much respect for the script I found the dialogue very hard to keep up with. The visuals and potential were great and it had all the right ingredients for a very entertaining movie. I almost feel guilty for not enjoying it, however I regrettably have to say I did not.

  14. I would say this is slightly worse than the first one but a much better villain.

  15. I actually liked this movie. I liked the first “Sherlock Holmes” movie and this one didn’t disappoint me. It had action, mystery, chases, explosion, and humor. Also I ship Holmes/Watson and with the part where they waltzed together I had to contain my squee’s. It’s not the best film, but it didn’t disappoint.

  16. Ive got a bone to pick with something the review says: it’s not a fault in the movie that every time Holmes’ personality is going to be analyzed deeper by the movie, an action scene comes. Maybe it just tells us that such action life he has covers up his weaker side: his personal aspect. In the first movie, he didn’t have that much action, so it gave freedom for such an experience. But, of course, an evil genious like Moriarty actually compliments Holmes: such a challenge is what he stands for. At least this is what the movie tells us, which fits perfectly.

    And, if you actually pay attention to every single plot twist, it might be predictable that there will be such a turn, but you can’t always predict WHAT will go wrong, and after what Holmes does and thinks of everytime, just for one single detail to escape him, it surely is mind boggling. Plus, he himself remarks that, even though he coldly planned many things (like him falling to Moriarty’s hands, etc.) he knew it was only a chance for him to succeed, not that he would if he went through it. In a way, that also makes him look human, but still as the great Sherlock Holmes. So, for what this movie is, such great ideas, great protagonists that, even though they didnt exactly get a spotlight to tell us who they were they still proved they were the right ones to do the job, and an epic intellectual battle on the level of The Dark Knight vs The Joker, this movie is near-perfect for me.

    By the way, the timing and choosing of the soundtracks used was incredibly fitting. That’s a small aspect, but it should still contribute: it wasn’t a mediocre or even average choosing and timing of soundtracks. The story was a huge battle, where it makes you think you’re omniscient at some times, only to tell you you’ve been tricked. It’s an awesome ride, better than just better-than-average; I’d say, it definitely puts a new bar in such movie style. The first movie also set the bar, but this sequel tops it, and puts a new one. Blackburn really seems like a simpleton right about now, as Moriarty is a boss villain, and Holmes remains as brilliant as always.

  17. I really enjoyed most things about this movie and thought it was much more witty and entertaining than the first Sherlock