Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Original Post Date: December 30th, 2011


“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011)


“You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick…”

– Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

“Wait, what? Who is that? What just happened? Explain that. Go back!”

– DirectingTitan, To No Avail

A true hero is nothing without an equally inspiring villain. Whether it is in a movie, TV program, video game, novel, etc, a hero requires an exceptional villain to fully compliment him/her. If you picture your favorite fictional heroes over the years, each of them had an adversary that seemed to be one step ahead of them…always waiting to strike. Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader, Batman had The Joker, and Dorothy had The Wicked Witch of the West. Neo battled Agent Smith for about 20 years (or 3 Matrix films), Captain James T. Kirk had his struggles with Khan (KHAAAAAAN!) and even Austin “Danger” Powers had his mojo threatened by Dr. Evil.

The point is…without a true villain, there is no challenge. No struggle. No chance of failure. There is no doppelganger, no distorted mirror reflection, no flip-side of a coin. In short, it is boring. After all, what forges a hero but meeting challenges head-on, overcoming adversity and learning a few valuable lessons along the way? Without obstacles to provide resistance, the audience does not have an emotional investment in the hero. And thus, there is no reward. You simply don’t get anything out of it. Last time I checked, we watch movies in order to think & to feel. Nobody wants a hollow experience.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a nemesis. Not necessarily some savage brute or homicidal maniac that would set fire to my home and sell my family into slavery. Simply someone to serve as a foil or provide a challenge, if you will. A darker version of myself who, but for some different experiences and decisions in their life, could have been a friend or colleague. I am no hero. I am fairly certain there will be no book written or film produced that will document my struggles, triumphs, tribulations and failures. But if there ever was, how would the villain be represented? What would motivate them? What lengths would he or she go to in order to achieve their ultimate goal? Could I stop this person? If so, how? Again, not likely to happen. Still, in the back of my mind, it remains one of my daydreams.

For Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.), this is no daydream. It’s a reality as shadowy as a vacant London alleyway, yet as solid as the cobblestones outside 221B Baker Street. When we last saw the master detective in director Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009), he was attempting to kick back and rest a bit after delivering London from the clutches of Lord Blackwood (a very creepy Mark Strong). Holmes’ loyal friend, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) was preparing to give up his fast-paced life of adventuring with Holmes in order to start a new life with his fiance, Mary (Kelly Reilly). However, by the end of the film there remained a few loose ends that seemed to point toward another dangerous player in this “Game of Shadows.”

Enter Professor James Moriarty (played exceptionally well by Mad Men’s Jared Harris). By outward appearance, Moriarty seems only to be a noted scholar. Holmes, however, remains convinced that seemingly unrelated worldwide occurrences are connected and that Moriarty is the key. Moriarty is regarded by many to be Sherlock Holmes’ greatest foe. By Holmes’ own admission, Moriarty is “the Napoleon of crime.” Only Moriarty possesses the insight, cunning and ruthlessness necessary to throw the world’s greatest detective off his game and threaten the peace and stability of the world as Holmes knows it.

With the aid of Watson, his own unique methods and intellect, and a few new friends…Holmes must rise to the occasion once again and prevent this rival genius from shaping the world as he sees fit. “Are you sure you wish to play this game,” Moriarty inquires to Holmes. We can only hope that Sherlock & Watson are up to the challenge.

Hey, DT! Convince Me! So….why: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows?

First and foremost, let me caution you that is not your parents’ Sherlock Holmes. In other words, this is probably not what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) intended when he first set pen to paper and created the character. Or maybe, this is EXACTLY what he intended and the rest of us have just had it wrong all this time. You be the judge. Anyway, if you are expecting a magnifying glass-toting Basil Rathbone, circa 1939, you’re in the wrong place. Ritchie’s Sherlock is a bit….unconventional. For starters, Ritchie plays up the “outcast” aspect of Holmes’ character. Holmes is undoubtedly brilliant, to a fault. He simply cannot switch off, which puts him at odds with much of society. He may not be a shining example of social graces, yet he can recite your life’s story simply by studying you for the most fleeting of moments. The love and happiness that Watson experiences in the “real world” often clashes with what we know and see of Holmes’ own life. This sort of contradiction creates a tragic hero, one with which the most eccentric of us can empathize.

An appealing aspect worth mentioning is the chemistry between the characters. The level of familiarity shared between Holmes and Watson is really something to see. One part detective & partner, one part friendship and finally, one part old married couple. It certainly reminded me quite a bit of how my friends and I treat each other. A lot of this, in my opinion, is due to the presence of Robert Downey Jr. If you were not aware, his portrayal of Holmes in the first film earned him a Golden Globe award. Jude Law, as Watson, provides the perfect straight man (and steals a few scenes of his own), but this is Downey’s world and the rest of us are simply living in it. He could probably start charging us rent any day now, and I would probably pay it. And I wouldn’t be the only one.

Personally, I could listen to Holmes & Watson bicker back and forth for hours. However, just when you think one of them (Watson, usually) is at their breaking point….you are reminded just how the deep the bond of their friendship extends. You get the impression that either would willingly lay down their life for the other, no matter what. And isn’t that what friendship is all about?


Another relationship to watch is the cat and mouse (and sometimes cat and cat) game played by Holmes and the shadowy Moriarty. The scenes they share are truly memorable, if only for the vast amounts of one-upmanship contained therein. The genius of Holmes was established in the first film and refreshed in Game of Shadows. Now, we are presented with Holmes’ greatest adversary. It is a treat to watch these bitter foes engage in a battle of wits and wills. At times, their relationship seems built on respect for, even admiration of the other. At other times, each seems hell-bent on destroying the other (be it mentally, physically or both). As mentioned above, Jared Harris does a superb job of portraying Holmes’ foil; that foe who always seems to be one step ahead…always waiting to strike. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the outcome of this epic match-up for you…


Now that you’re here…check out:

 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a treat for your ears as well as your eyes. Hans Zimmer returns with a score of original, pulse-pounding music as only he can. Zimmer, whose work has seemingly been featured in every film you have ever heard of, is quite well-known. You may remember his work from films such as Inception (2010), The Dark Knight (2008) and some of the  Pirates of the Caribbean saga. Zimmer’s contributions help set the tone, whether you are accompanying Holmes and Watson through busy London streets or…wherever the trail may lead in Game of Shadows. One of the things that jumped out for me from the first film was the score, and I am happy to report that the same held true for this installment.


Who brings a DVD to a gunfight? You do (If it’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)

Ritchie’s Holmes has been molded into an action hero of sorts. While Doyle’s works make references to Holmes being a skilled fighter and possessing knowledge of martial arts to some extent, Downey’s Holmes takes that the extra mile. This incarnation of Holmes is the type that takes on multiple armed opponents with ease (and sometimes, with difficulty). This is the type of Holmes who can visualize how an entire fight will proceed even before the first blow is struck. (This method was used in the first film and makes several appearances in the sequel…sometimes a bit comically.) This is the type of Holmes who seems to bring explosions with him wherever he goes. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Sherlock, I recommend walking at least 20 feet behind him at all times. And under no circumstances agree to move in with him, because you will never get your security deposit back.

This incarnation of Sherlock Holmes can be a bit disconcerting if you are used to mysteries that unravel at a slower pace. However, if you like your “Whodunnits” with a bit more “Have at you”, you are in for a treat. With Guy Ritchie at the helm, there are far more action sequences than you’d find contained in your typical Holmes story. This may cause some eye-rolling among the long-time fans but, for whatever reason, it works for me here.


This is the end…

All things considered, I was pleased with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It walks the line between mystery and comedy and sometimes it doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. The plot is a bit hard to follow at times, with some additions that only seem to be included for the purpose of giving Sherlock something to punch/kick/chop/otherwise humiliate. It’s a lot of fun to watch Sherlock match wits with someone outside of the realm of “common criminal.” Old-school Sherlock fans may not approve of the character’s overhaul yet it will no doubt attract some new followers and perhaps…inspire fans to pick up a book and check out the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Game of Shadows reuses a few of the same gimmicks from the first film, which can prove dangerous if relied upon too heavily. Fortunately, there’s enough new material here to keep the entire experience from going stale. If this film was made again using different characters, I don’t believe it would hold the same appeal for me. The chemistry and dialog of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are what made the first film for me, and adding Jared Harris as Moriarty helps make the second one.

So, if you’re searching a reasonably entertaining film, put away that magnifying glass and look no further. Enjoy your time with Sherlock Holmes, but remember: watch your back and don’t drink anything he offers you. It’s not fit for human consumption.
– DT

Rating: 3 out of 4 Incoherent Robert Downey Jr. Ramblings

*Note: DT is now accepting applications for an official “nemesis” to plot against him and generally keep things interesting. Applicants must be crazed (but not dangerously so) and enjoy tacos. If interested, please see the management.*

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