Two years ago, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes presented a version of the fabled detective that was more in line with anything else playing in movie theaters – that is, with more one-liners and in slow motion. But it wasn’t for everyone – seeing such a classy character get the Robert Downey Jr. treatment isn’t exactly a natural course to take.
Those who had problems with Ritchie’s take probably weren’t looking forward to the Warner Bros. sequel, A Game of Shadows, which was systematically cranked out for a release aiming to mimic the original’s successful 2009 launch on Christmas (against Avatar, no less). But it’s safe to say that if you had a problem with a smarmy Sherlock the first time around, you shouldn’t even bother showing up this time around.
The first of Ritche’s Sherlocks, while aiming away from the old-school mystery, still maintained some sort of classical feel to it. 19th century London felt tangible, the mystery took top priority, and Downey was invested in his character. It felt like a modern day blockbuster, but it went with its own flow.
But A Game of Shadows ditches most of what made the first film feel like something special. The cast is mostly intact, and there are some great sets (I admit to using one scene to gaze at some gorgeous wallpaper); but Ritchie isn’t reaching to recreate the tone of his first film. A Game of Shadows is, instead, a glorified action movie with more Bullet Time sequences than good taste has allowed for quite some time.
The change between these installments would normally be an entirely damning thing, but A Game of Shadows isn’t as awful as that would imply. The action scenes work more often than not – the center piece of the film pits Dr. Watson and company against fucking cannons, and switches between planes in bullet time that rack-zooms from running gypsys to exploding trees. It’s the kind of think that has no business in a Sherlock Holmes story or yore, but at least it’s cool. That mentality is supported a cast that includes Downey, Stephen Fry and Jude Law, all of whom can keep it light enough to keep you moving from scene to scene (even as the story-telling and mystery fails to connect from one to the next).
It’s not as though the first Sherlock Holmes was that memorable, and I don’t expect this one to hold up very well either. But if we were going to get a Blockbuster version of a cherished literary character from Hollywood, we honestly could have done a lot worse.