Director Guy Ritchie’s 2009 take on the world-renowned super sleuth Sherlock Holmes had many things going for it. Riding the wave of recent Holmes revivals like the Holmes-cum-doctor TV show House and the BBC’s modern take via the excellent miniseries Sherlock, Ritchie added the necessary Hollywood flair, while Robert Downey Jr. lent just the right kind of unhinged bravado to bring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s drug-addicted genius detective to life. Throw into the mix Holmes’ reluctant sidekick Dr. Watson (Law), a formidable villain, a dastardly plot involving the occult and a series of clever yet intelligible mysteries, and Sherlock Holmes made for some satisfying holiday fluff.
2011’s sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, includes all the same ingredients (minus the occult, boo), but in different proportion. While this film finally pits Holmes against his famed arch-nemesis Prof. Moriarty (an excellent Jared Harris) it quickly disposes of Sherlock’s pseudo-romantic interest Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). Holmes hardly bats an eye when Moriarty claims blame for her disappearance, but when he threatens Holmes’ beloved friend and biographer Dr. Watson (and Watson’s new and seemingly inconsequential wife), Holmes joins Moriarty’s dangerous game of wits with protective vigor. With any potential romantic interest for Holmes removed, the subtext between Holmes and Watson moves to the forefront, making for even more ridiculous situations this time around, fitting for a sequel having to out-do its predecessor. Also befitting of sequels, the action is ramped up considerably. In Sherlock Holmes Guy Ritchie’s trademark slow-motion wizardry and hyper-kinetic editing added context to Holmes’ almost clairvoyant martial prowess, but in Game of Shadows, not only is there more action, but less context. Though I called Sherlock Holmes “fluff” earlier, it looks damn near subtle and restrained next to its follow-up.
This lesser adventure is not without its charms though. Noomi Rapace—aka The (Swedish) Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—guest stars, but in a surprisingly ancillary, entirely non-romantic role. And it must be restated how well Jared Harris exudes the deadly intellect of Holmes’s one true rival. But where its predecessor succeeded in doing the opposite, AGOS suffers by trying to fit Doyle’s contemplative detective within Guy Ritchie’s over-the-top action hero. Let’s hope the inevitable third installment readjusts the imbalance.