December 16, 2011

THE SHOWBUZZDAILY REVIEW: “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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SHERLOCK HOLMES:  GAME OF SHADOWS:  Watch It At Home – Far Too Elementary


We have to come to terms with the fact that an entire generation may recognize the name Sherlock Holmes not as the template for brilliant amateur crime-solving, but as a moderately intelligent action-comedy hero who dresses up in funny clothes.  This effect on the populace is what a $524M worldwide gross buys you, and with the sequel SHERLOCK HOLMES:  GAME OF SHADOWS, director Guy Ritchie, producer Joel Silver, and new screenwriters Michele and Kieran Mulroney, provide more of the same.  

Game of Shadows is in one way superior to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes:  it does away with the supernatural mumbo-jumbo and takes place in some version of the real world.  There’s no great mystery about who the villain is, since this time Moriarity (Jared Harris) himself is on the scene.  The convoluted and more-than-slightly ridiculous mystery Holmes has to solve is just what the evil one is plotting, which turns out to be not dissimilar from what master criminals have been plotting in big-scale action movies for decades. It all leads to a showdown between Holmes and Moriarity at a location that does come from Conan Doyle (and in being so used, reveals the ending).


Watching Game of Shadows, one is struck more than anything else by the waste.  It’s not just Robert Downey, Jr, Jude Law and Harris–the very fine cast includes Rachel McAdams, briefly reprising her role from the first movie, Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish Dragon Tattoo series) as a Gypsy fortune-teller, Stephen Fry, having a fine old time as Holmes’s brother Mycroft, and Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade.  Philippe Rousselot again provides gorgeous, atmospheric photography, and Sarah Greenwood’s turn-of-the-century production design is sumptuous.  No one can question Ritchie’s ability to create sharp action sequences.

But to what end?  Even leaving aside the distortion of Holmes as a character, Game of Shadows is an action franchise that’s already tired.  We get more signature sequences of Holmes anticipating every blow of a fight in slow-motion before the first punch is thrown or shot is fired, then enacting it all as planned; more giggly no-it’s-not-really-homoerotic scenes of Holmes standing in the way of Watson’s marriage to the understanding Mary (Kelly Reilly), more silly and unconvincing costumes (look, he’s in drag!) for Downey to wear in disguise.  There isn’t a scene that can’t be overly worked for a gag; without spoiling the ending, it provides a microcosm of the movie by starting out as fairly clever and then continuing to push until it succeds in becoming farcial and dumb for the sake of a cheap laugh.  Downey seems to be leaking his ADD-plus-ego Tony Stark/Iron Man persona onto Holmes, and while the rapport between him and Law is still the center of the movie’s appeal, it feels more studied and forced this time around.

The Sherlock Holmes franchise clearly works for a wide audience, and Game of Shadows will inevitably make a great deal of money too.  Plenty of things blow up, and Downey and Law remain fairly good company.  Overall, though, the movie is 129 laborious minutes of paycheck-grabbing by a group of very talented people who don’t particularly care if their secret motive is uncovered.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."