‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated December 12th, 2014 at 9:29 pm,

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

Despite some definite drawbacks, however, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a fairly good action/adventure film

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. 3.5 -.-

    • Whoever wrote this review should stop writing reviews for the rest of their sad lives or at least get half a brain. The film delivers on every level. They use all the same techniques they used in the first one and I.e. same result if not better

      • Agree with your assessment of the movie but since I don’t read the reviews on this site for the very reasons you’ve stated I think the man should keep his job. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get to read all the comments under the reviews which is precisely why I DO visit this site.

        A solid 5 stars! Loved it!!

      • Trolling doesn’t help. Others disagreed with the review too. But they knew better than to raise a stink in the comments section. Take a cue.

  2. im going to see it this weekend

  3. 3.5 out of 5? Hmmmm. I was expecting more, but I will see it anyway. Great review Kofi.

    • When did you add “the Unforgettable” to your name? Where was I?!

      You’re quite “Unforgettable” without the name addition.

      Merry Christmas mate!

      • Kahless was threatening to eat a plate of live gagh if I didn’t put that on the name. Since we share the same body (including taste buds), you can guess who won that argument. :-D

        Have a wonderful, blessed, and Merry Christmas!

        toDwI’maj qoS yItIvqu’!

  4. My wife and I are going to see this too Kahless…hopefully tomorrow night.. :)

    Saw it at midnight, gave a short review on my blog. I approached this film more from a literacy critical stance, being a huge fan of all of the original Holmes stories. And this one certainly delivered. Why the ending fight of the film was a more sophisticated version of Holmes and Moriarty’s death in “The Final Problem”. In fact the whole film ringed with the undertone of that tale. Even Watson’s dialogue at the end of the film, during the funeral and before Mary came in, all was lifted from the story.

    • This is not a good review at all. It is self-appreciative. This movie is fun, exciting and delivers on every level. Downey’s Holmes is not “cartoonish”. The character has changed because he has become completely and self-destructively obsessed with Moriarty to the point of being hooked on coke and embalming fluid. Isolated and lonely as he may have been in the first film, the distraction of his new obsession gives him new purpose. DUH!! I’m very critical of movies. I hate almost everything. This movie is fun and the twists are fun. It is an epic adventure, not a mindless action flick. As someone who finds himself constantly wondering how people can pay for and enjoy the garbage that is pushed on us, and constantly defending my negative opinions of 99% of what’s out there, I am in awe of Kofi’s negative review of this epic film. In my opinion, there may be 5 movies a year that don’t suck, and that is optimistic. I feel bad for you Kofi, I hope this isn’t your job.

      • I didn’t mean to say this review isn’t good. It is very thorough. I thought the comparison of RDJ to Jack Sparrow was terribly inaccurate because The Pirate’s franchise is terrible, and I think if you account for the other factor’s I mentioned, it explains the growth of the character adequately. The “schtick”, while knocking the film down a hair, is tolerable IMO and not enough to keep if from being 5 out of 5 STARS!! My opinion, no disrespect meant for Kofi. I’m just thinkin’ that if you don’t like this, you aren’t gonna like much of anything.

    • Sherlock very much uses his brain in this…

  6. I agree that some more scenes of Holmes using his analytical deductive reasoning would of been great. The film is still very good and worth seeing in theaters.

  7. I was waiting for Screen Rants review before deciding wether or not to see this in the theater and it looks like I’ll be waiting for the Blu-ray. I guess I’m in the minority when I say I wasn’t a big fan of the 1st so I was hoping the sequel would improve on the few issues I had. I didn’t think the original was bad in fact there were moments that I thought were fantastic but it dragged at times and I eventually stopped caring about what happened and wished we would get to the final action sequence and conclusion.

  8. i;m seeing this monday morning when i dont have to pay $13 at the theater.

    Wasn’t wild about the first but it was still a good reboot. I’m expecting to feel the same about this movie

  9. So basically what you are saying is that, this is the same as the first film with different characters and a better villain? If so, awesome. The only thing I hated about the first film was the villain. Now, I don’t know if it was Mark Strong’s performance or if it was just the way the character was written but, to me, he just didn’t come off as intimidating at all. In fact, in certain scenes I almost found him laughable. Other than that, loved the first one.

  10. Can we also vote on the quality of these reviews? I vote “0″

  11. All of you kvetching about this review or Screen Rant’s reviews in general: feel free to not bother reading them if you find them so tedious/aggravating. By my account, Screen Rant provides a valuable service, giving me an idea of whether or not I want to go see certain films. I enjoy these reviews immensely. Thank you, Kofi, et al for scribing lots of good stuff for those of us who dig film analysis and criticism; and for those of us who value suggestions about those flicks worth plunking down the simoleans — and those not!

    • Ok, Steve, not sure the rest of us need to know about your immense enjoyment sessions on screenrant, but by my account, if screen rant provides a valuable service giving opinions about movies, then so do the people who give their opinions about the reviews. If you value suggestions, I suggest that this movie is damned good. What it seems that you are saying is that you value one opinion over another, if that’s the case, the majority of movie reviews are negative and that’s what you are looking for. To be fair though, most movies suck horribly. IMO though, this is one of the good ones. Feedback is valuable as well. As long as there is an internet, there will be people expressing themselves freely and uninhibited.

      • I have no beef with readers disagreeing with a particular review – I do take exception to those who complain about reviews in general. My point was: if you don’t like reading movie reviews, because you *might* diasagree with them or for whatever reason, that don’t read them. For the rest of us they can bring insight and entertainment.

        • My previous post should have read (correction highlighted):”if you don’t like reading movie reviews, because you might diasagree with them or for whatever reason, **than** don’t read them.”

          • (psst: “then”)

  12. Fantastic review kofi, but one question though – as a standalone film, is it better than the first one? I’m quite set on seeing it if only for Moriarty, but I’d just like to know.

    The sense I got foe your review is – better villain, amped up set pieces, amped up comedy schticks, but a linearized plot and minimized character development.

  13. Had a lot of fun at this movie. Some brain action needed (less than the first film), but some set pieces just made my jaw drop! It’s no snake crushing a building from Transformers 3 or the Hogwart’s Shield being destroyed in HP7B, but the (SMALL SPOILER) tower sequence was amazingly fun once you realize what happens. Plus the run through the woods makes your head spin in a fun way. 4 stars for lack of Moriarty character development.

    I do hope he makes it into the next film as well. BTW, Star Trek TNG had a great Moriarty as well. :)


  14. Oh my goodness! This movie was awesome!!! I defintely recommend it. I thought it was better than the first. And that ending!!!

    • Hell to the yeeee-ahhh!! My thoughts exactly!

  15. just got back from seeing it and i thought it was awesome! cant wait until sherlock holmes 3!

  16. I loved the movie it was really good but it defenently needed a better ending. It was an impossible action that couldn’t have happened. And I understand yeah its a movie… but a realistic movie. Its not science fiction or a superhero movie. Besides the ending it was a ton of fun and the forest scene is one of my favorite scenes of the year.

  17. SH2 doesn’t premier in South-Africa for another two weeks :(, and I don’t want any spoilers, so for that reason I won’t be reading the review YET (except if there aren’t any spoilers in the review – then, by all means, please let me know so that I can read it.)
    But from the trailers I’ve seen, I think I’m gonna disagree with that 3.5 rating you gave it, Kofi ;) — I think it’ll be a bit better than that.

    That said, I’m REALLY hoping the sequel will be as good as the original (in my experience, that hardy ever happens, so it’ll be a real treat if it’s as good as you guys say it is).

      • That’s a fair point…

        But in all respect, I don’t think that’s going to apply to the SH2 trailer.

  18. I think the “slo mo” was over used and quite frankly as Kofi states it was a go here there bit.

    Compared to the first this was a slight letdown. I could have waited to rent this.

    I now probably have to go see MI and change my mind there…. :D

    • Slo mo is overused in general in today’s Hollywood. One of many examples that comes to mind, from quite a few years ago, is Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” — a couple of the battle scenes, at least, were deeply marred by endless, overbearing slo mo; a touch here and there would have been effective; minutes on end of it was overkill. It’s like the shaky hand-held camera technique – can be strking; but can also, quickly, become annoying if not emplyed sparingly. I wish the bigs would get the point with these and so many other cinematic conceits: “Less is More”.

    • Are you serious??? I mean I can understand people being tired of slo-mo, but it was done so well! Actually seeing those giant cannon ball things flying through the woods, breaking trees in half, was awesome. It would’ve been just another action scene otherwise.

      • Yet we saw it in the trailer. So the surprise was already out of the bag so to speak.

        I can tell you the last scene with Morrie when he made the comment of ‘you think you’re the only one’ was great and would have been better had it not been overly used.

        I was quite happy with the ending at the falls and think it would have made the film better overall to end with ‘The End’.

    • While RDJ would be a good joker he would never put a dent in heath ledgers performance. RDJ is sherlock holmes and ironman and that’s all he needs to be

      • @trey

        If RDJ played joker and died before the movie came out not only would he “dent” ledgers performance but most (if not all) blog/movie sites would be flooded with controversial “who was the better joker” debates… just my opinion though.

  19. I think the only part that really annoyed me, despite Holmes cold nature, even he would have reacted more given what happens to Irene. It’s barely even mentioned.

    Aside from that, and the somewhat predictable story, it was solid and great fun. A rare thing, a blockbuster with more genuine laughs than most comedies.

    8.5/10 from me.

  20. Ok I just saw this movie and I absolutely LOVED it. I consider it a worthy sequel, and thats rare these days. But on a slightly different topic, I have a question for Screen Rant regarding a particular trailer that premiered before the movie: Why on Earth have you guys not covered the first full trailer for The Dark Knight Rises???

  21. Sorry but i disagree, they made Sherlock look very genius and I always found Watson to be less intellegent, but still smart. It did have some flaw, they were easily dismisable. Although they did merge the books a bit, since Moriarty and Holmes’s final fight from falling off a cliff near waterfalls, I still found it a perfect MODERN representation of Holmes. Loved comedy as well.

    I’d give it 4.5/5 stars

    • SPOILER WARNING, please.

  22. I saw it and loved it. My biggest complaint was that the story was pretty confusing. I know that that makes me sound like an idiot, but hear me out. Although Holmes always does a good job at clarifying the audience’s confusion, I followed the story for the 2009 film much better. I’m simply not sure if SH2 was good story telling, or slightly convoluted. It’s hard to tell because the performances and script are so good that the movie kept rolling merrily along for me.

    When I first read Kofi’s interview I was kind of upset with the Captain Jack Sparrow comparison. But then I saw the movie and I understand where he’s coming from. Downey played the character’s eccentric demeanor up even more this time around than he did prior (and he was already pretty darn eccentric the last time around). Fortunately, the wit written into RDJ’s Holmes is still really fresh, so Holmes never came close to wearing out his charm in my book. Again, I really enjoyed this movie. I think that watching it a second time would probably grow my appreciation of the film even further. Next up, MI4 and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

  23. I saw it last night; I adored it – but still, I was annoyed at two things: one, the apparent death of Irene Adler (even though I knew McAdams would only appear for a few scenes at best, I never expected they’d kill her off), and two, why didn’t they include the supposed subplot at the end of the first film, where Moriarty steals the part of Blackwood’s machine?

    Other than that, I throughly enjoyed it. Rapace, Harris, and Fry were perfect in their performances.

    • should have said spoiler alert bro…

      • No spolier alert? u SOB!

  24. Guys, some of you should really look at what you are posting before you hit SUBMIT. I saw the film, so nothing you can say will spoil it for me, but I have read some serious spoilers on here. Just food for thought.