The focal point of this middle installment (a trilogy in the making) is the machinations of one evil mastermind, and Holmes' nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. A mathematical authority and capable of hatching any plot no matter how complex or sinister, Moriarty is organizing the beginning of a world war. His game is to control the European weapons industry to make billions by profiting on war and death. Yet somehow, irrespective of his grand scheme he cannot help but toy with Holmes and continue their feud.
Irene Adler (the only woman for whom our sleuth ever showed weakness and affection) is a victim of the crossfire, and Watson and his new wife are in constant danger. Scotland Yard is conspicuously absent from the fray as are the Baker Street irregulars.
Perhaps the most intriguing character aside from the disappointing choice for Moriarty (Jared Harris) is his right hand man Colonel Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson). Moran is an expert marksman and a menacing criminal. There are really two teams of adversaries, the Holmes and Watson tandem and the Moriarty and Moran duo playing a game of death and domination.
The interactions between Watson and Holmes have taken on a distinctively Houseian flavor that I am uncomfortable with. Why imitate an imitation? Why not remain true to the originality of Doyle? Ritchie has made this a clear middle film that is replete with humor and devoid of heart. I never felt absorbed in a mystery or titillated by the action. Sherlock Holmes seems to have been re-written for the big screen and so much has been lost in the process. There are the typical hallmark moments for audiences to enjoy but the story feels rather stale. Moriarty and Holmes come into close quarters all too much and it spoils the tension and suspense. Downey, Jr. cannot always play Iron Man whether in or out of that absurd contraption.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes was a breath of fresh oxygen. I stress the verb was because he is now playing a metaphorical game of shadows in which he only reveals shades of his brilliant performance in the first film. More unnerving, Downey has had the best face work I have ever seen. He looks 25 and Herculean. Suddenly he is agile, youthful and man is he handsome! The only thing he cannot do properly is pronounce his lines with the same exuberance and I fault the surgery entirely. Moreover, Noomi Rapace should have been liquid dynamite in this film. Instead, she is as boring as a slab of concrete. What happened to her nerve, to that killer vibe? Ritchie seems to have lost it and never found it. Jude Law is such a pleasure to watch as Watson as he genuinely feels like the good Doctor/narrator we all know and love from the original literature as well as from The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Overall A Game of Shadows has all the trappings of a middle film and this erases too much of the excitement. I wanted to love this film and instead I find myself puzzled as to why they broke away so much from the original concept. Two thumbs, or four as it were down Reichenbach Falls.
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