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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

When Robert Downey Jr. first appeared in 2009 as a leaner, meaner Sherlock Holmes, I remarked that I didn’t see anything wrong with tweaking the character a bit: Like his Victorian comrade Count Dracula, the character of Holmes has been redone so many times that a fresh approach seems necessary if you’re going to do him at all. Still, you have to retain some of the germ of Arthur Conan Doyle’s much-loved detective, and if the previous movie strained that connection, this sequel almost loses it entirely: He’s closer to Jack Sparrow than Basil Rathbone.

Worse, this Holmes spends less time investigating and deducing than he does chasing and fighting. He’s up against Professor Moriarty, played somewhat drably by Jared Harris (Richard’s son). The plot, which barely comes into focus for the first hour of the film, is set against a backdrop of tense relationships among the nations of Europe, exacerbated by anarchist bombings.

The story keeps flirting with contemporary relevance—there’s an international summit that you’d swear was a G8 meeting—but never quite getting there. It does the same thing with the relationship between Holmes and Watson (Jude Law), implying an implication of a gay relationship but pulling back before you can pin it down. (Sometimes a ripped shirt is just a ripped shirt.)

Downey is most fun to watch when he underplays, which is almost none of the time here. We’re told that he’s been subsisting on a diet of coffee, tobacco, coca leaves, and formaldehyde, and while he may not be as manic as that sounds, he’s still more goofy than you want to see in a brilliant detective. In a few brief scenes as brother Mycroft, Stephen Fry is more fun to watch.

Though it’s unfortunately not lacking in gunplay and explosions, Game of Shadows feels less FX-heavy than its predecessor, which all but moved into steampunk territory. At the same time, it’s also more sloppily plotted, filled with tangents that do nothing but kill time (why even bring back Rachel McAdams as Mrs. Adler only to dispatch her so casually?) on the way to a denouement that will strike many as anti climactic.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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