Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows feels like a welcome retreat from your everyday, a chance to visit with old friends who will make you laugh, make you mad and make you forget what ails you. This is pure stage play theatrics, a throw back to vaudeville of the late 19th century when it was high on adrenaline and sweat in the immediacy of shared space where physical humor was as much about what you felt as what you observed. Ritchie lovingly embraces the rich tradition of satire and barbarism long before its slow, painful demise at the birth of cinema when the actual would become the perceptible, the projected in place of the present. Action packed and performance driven, this is melodrama as meaningfully playful to elicit response and collaboration, drawing us in as participant, voyeur and one. Those who missed it might have had another reaction; those who wanted something other than a respectful ode to the first and a lighthearted sequel got off on some tangent about wanting more of the same but different. These days when sequels have numbers instead of substantive efforts and franchise building is not only the goal but the reward, Sherlock Holmes the action hero gives us exactly what we need and what we realize we wanted all along.
Sherlock Holmes part 2 returns to the quirky world of Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his dapper side kick and gentleman adventurer Doc Watson (Jude Law) in the midst of more shenanigans and hijinks; this time however they may have met their match in the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty. Moriarty represents all the evil in the world concentrated in the form of mad scientist, criminal overlord to a vast network of bad people doing bad things and perhaps muddily malshapen as too much everything to be any one thing – caricature in place of character. Yet for all the kitchen sink approach and overblown choreography, Moriarty is the perfect anti-hero to Holmes and Watson, matching wits and efforts in a one-up ‘game of shadows’ that meets and exceeds the title. Sherlock Holmes makes no boast to cater to all our demands of it to be more or less than what we’ve already seen, stray too far and damned all hell fire, remain the same in a world of infinite possibilities and the stake is made and the kindling prepared for a good fire. Fans of the first will find plenty to enjoy, casual moviegoers enough to sustain the minute-by-minute thrill ride and those who weren’t enamored by the first will be better off looking for other such megalith escapes like Transformers. This kind of abandon, fun for the sake of it is too much for some and for the rest of us, we’ll enjoy it all the more.
We find Sherlock at the bottom of a long spiral of excess, experimentation and escape in search for answers to everything, obsessed with knowing and lost in the realization he’s moving far too fast for most people and is in a constant tug-o-war between slowing down and speeding up. For all his excellence and super-theorizing, problem solving and solution making he’s still the same troubled mess of insecurity and doubt, as desperate for Watson’s companionship as his salvation. The two are locked together in a love, hate and symbiotic need for one another that’s threatened not by absolute evil but by Watson’s impending wedding. It is the wedding that will provide the most stable through line for the rest of the film’s wild action, the imminent threat to their way of life as much as the rest of the life. What ensues is not so much narrative and plot as a scattered pursuit of the brilliant and the dastardly, good and evil in a deadly game of chase with collateral damage an increasing threat to people, places and things with the ultimate threat possible – to the history books!
In order to fully appreciate A Game of Shadows one need only abandon traditional sense and sensibilities, we are after all in a make believe place. We have to make believe as much as embrace the absence of any physical universe we know, perhaps only places and fight choreography we dream about and are happy to wake up out of each morning. The draw of Ritchie’s penultimate action-adventure escapist cinema film feels like the middle of a journey, not the end. Because critics were mixed and audiences sometimes got lost in getting everything they really wanted but didn’t know what to do with, there might not be a third film. That, perhaps is the greatest failure of the film that the franchise wasn’t secured outright, a guarantee as much as a promise. Nevertheless at half a billion dollars, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is hardly a failure, every bit as tailored as all films delicately poised between success and failure, knowing jaunts like this reward after all where the greatest joy lives in the theatrics of the mind, body and soul.
To Blu-ray or not to Blu-ray:
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, like it’s predecessor not only warrant Blu-ray but should not be screened outside the theater any other way. Not only is Ritchie’s lush visual mastery and dedicated passion to the art and aesthetics of cinema ever-present, it is rich and rewarding to all senses and beautifully brought to larger than life theatrics through Blu-ray. If you don’t have a Blu-ray player yet this would be the perfect film to make the transition, but start with the first film.
Warner Home Video, a division of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc., invited me to join their exclusive Blu-ray Elite Movie Review Program and they sent me a complimentary copy of this movie for the purpose of review with special attention on the “Blu-ray Experience”. I received this video for free, but that does not sway this review or the reviews of other films that will follow.