The first installment of these Victorian-super-secret-agent Sherlock Holmes re-imaging had a plot impossible to understand. This second installment fixes that problem by having a plot you don’t really need to understand; there is a clear villain whom Sherlock needs to confront. Everything else is frivolous set dressing, and action sequences done in slow motion. It is fun, but it isn’t the inquisitive thriller you would expect from a movie based of the adventures of an inquisitive detective. Like its predecessor this is simply a modern action movie, not very different from Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, done in costume; in MI: 4 we saw Tom Cruise dangling off the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building today; in Holmes 2 we get to see Robert Downey Jr, dangling off a train over what is an impossibly tall bridge.
Despite the improvements, Game of Shadows retains several of the inconveniences that affected the first film. For the most part it is loud and hard to follow. Many action films now a day suffers from these ailments, but the dim lighting in Game of Shadows seems to worsen their effects. Thankfully it was not in 3D.
There is also the matter of Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) as a protagonist; he stays a step ahead of every character in the film, and two ahead of the audience. Most thrillers are supposed to stay a step ahead of the audience, but usually the main character unfolds the plot’s contrivances alongside the audience. Here, Holmes acts, shoots, and chases the bad guys, for several minutes, and the film stops for a few more minutes so Holmes can explain his actions, to the audience. In full honesty, it is hard to care for a character, when you don’t understand why he acts the way he does from the very beginning.
But as I stated earlier Game of Shadows, has a plot you don’t really need to follow in order to enjoy. In short, the bad guy, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), has bought several weapons manufacturing companies and he plans on getting rich by starting WWI a few decades early. Holmes, for no apparent reason other than being a good sport, enlists his trusted sidekick, Watson (Jude Law), to stop the evil Professor. We know Moriarty is evil, because Holmes calls him “the Napoleon of Crime”, because he kills Rachel McAdams, and because we know Moriarty is a bad guy from popular culture. However other than that there is no apparent reason to believe that this guy is actually evil until the last twenty minutes of the movie.
And once we know he is evil; Holmes opts to play a game of chess with him. Quite unexpected as most third acts in action movies unfold over a series of loud explosions and not a chess game.
I haven’t really spoiled the ending, but merely stated that the hero will confront the villain at the end. If you didn’t see that one coming, the Sherlock Holmes will likely surprise you. Perhaps even enthrall you. Otherwise it is a mildly entertaining action flick, with very dim photography, elaborate costume design, and some quirky acting. As I said fun, but nowhere near as smart as its protagonist.