Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Blu-ray ReviewJune 18, 2012
If you're an aspiring writer looking for a good example of how to successfully adapt the richness of a long-standing, beloved literary character, watch anything except Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
On the other hand, if you want to know how to put together an action thriller with the bare minimum of intellectual content, the Robert Downey, Jr. vehicle is as good a place as any to start.
At the end of the first film, we learned that the machinations put in place are all part of the design of one Professor James Moriarty (played wonderfully by Jared Harris in this film), and the sequel picks up directly on that thread.
With the nuptials of Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) approaching, Holmes embarks on a case that will bring him ever closer to stopping the man that the world's greatest detective dubs "the Napoleon of crime." Unfortunately for Holmes and Watson, Holmes's meddling has not gone unnoticed by Moriarty, who puts plans in action to remove the pair from the equation.
As the plot thickens, Holmes and Watson enlist the aid of the gypsy Madam Simza (Noomi Rapace, Prometheus) and Sherlock's brother Mycroft of British Intelligence (played with a brilliant blend of whimsy and nonchalance by the always-wonderful Stephen Fry) as they attempt to prevent Moriarty from starting World War I 20 years early.
2009's Sherlock Holmes was the first major, big-budget swipe at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective hero since Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Per-Cent Solution, and it was successful for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Downey's performance as the classic Victorian logician. It wove Holmes's indomitable attention to detail and knack for keen observation into the tapestry of the modern day action film.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows more or less dives directly into the action and leaves the art of detection behind. And who could blame director Guy Ritchie and his team? It's a feat of logical reasoning such that Holmes himself might have supported it. Holmes was established as having a keen analytical mind in the first film; they needed only touch on it briefly here.
But consider also everything that's been lost. The character of Sherlock Holmes is a man who lives for the thrill of detection; he thrives on putting together an enormous mosaic with only a single piece. This movie has done all the work for him (to the point that even Watson pieces together certain aspects of the mystery before Holmes).
I guess what bothers me is that this did not need to be a Sherlock Holmes movie (if we're gonna REALLY nitpick, this movie was already made as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen adaptation back in 2003). You could change all of the characters' names and wind up with a story that makes the same impact on an audience.
The Holmes and Watson here bear almost no resemblance to their literary counterparts. Having said that, though, I suppose that's what the BBC's Sherlock series is for.
But I could spend all day griping about how much this isn't a Sherlock Holmes story. There's plenty about this movie that does work in spite of its blatant ignorance of the characters' source material.
Jude Law delivers another great performance as Watson. While the adaptation of the character may be lacking, Watson has, in just about every successful incarnation of the Holmes universe, served as a point-of-view character for the audience. Law plays Watson as the everyman; he's more than willing to saddle up beside Holmes for any adventure (sometimes reluctantly), and when the situation is at its most dire, he's ready to let the bullets fly for his buddy.
As I mentioned earlier, Jared Harris is brilliant as Moriarty. Moriarty is one of the seminal villains in all of fiction, regardless of the medium. He is Holmes's sole equal, and Harris milks that quality for everything it's worth. He plays Moriarty simultaneously as a man who sees Holmes as a disruption to his plans and as a man who has great respect for a truly worthy adversary.
This is a credit to the writers as much as it is to Harris himself. It would be frighteningly-easy to make Moriarty a mustache-twirling Bond villain, but the character is given more respect than that. With respect to his literary origins, he's the only other character who is afforded such respect.
Then there's Holmes and, by proxy, Robert Downey, Jr. I'll say up front that Downey is the perfect choice for the role, at least in the capacity with which the modern-day films choose to portray him. But when I think of his performance of Holmes, I can't help but think of something I once wrote of Zach Galifanakis.
In reference to Galifanakis's performance as Alan in The Hangover Part II I remarked that there's only so many times that he can play the role of the dumb-yet-lovable sidekick before it gets stale.
Having said that, think about Downey's portrayal of Holmes versus his iconic performances as Tony Stark in the Iron Man and The Avengers films. One has to wonder if there will come a point where Downey has milked the "eccentric genius" cow for all it's worth.
While the movie itself may not be an iron-clad adaptation of the Holmes series, its story stands fairly strong on its own merits. It's a film with likable and engaging characters, a story that strays just far enough into the realm of the nonsensical to keep the audience interested, and a plot that's complex but not so complicated that it's difficult for an audience to keep up.
The action (and there's a lot of it) is inventive and consistent while never becoming overpowering. It's well-paced and well-directed.
It's got everything you'd want from a Sherlock Holmes movie. As long as you want a Sherlock Holmes movie that bears only a moderate resemblance to a Sherlock Holmes story.
Warner Bros. brings Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows to Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that absolutely does not disappoint. The Victorian color palate from the film is left perfectly intact, and yet the images presented are still vibrant and interesting in high-definition. Grain is just present enough to remind you that you're watching a film, and the transfer is practically free of any artifacting.
As for the sound, the movie DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is brilliantly balanced, with high-octane explosions rocking the center speakers while its after-effects reverberate in the rear. Dialogue is clear, and ambient noise comes through with remarkable clarity.
Beyond the Feature
As with most major WB releases, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows comes equipped with the Maximum Movie Mode, hosted by Downey. The picture-in-picture features provide some fascinating insight into the making of the film and the shaping of its story and characters.
Other bonus features, which can either be accessed DURING the MMM presentation or from the main menu, total a little over 35 minutes and are as follows:
Also included is a download for the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows movie app, an UltraViolet digital download, and a DVD copy of the film.
All-in-all, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a fairly watchable movie. It's tough for me to be completely objective, as I'm a BIG fan of the original Doyle stories. I must admit to being extremely disappointed that the sequel strayed even further from the source material than the first film.
All that aside, though, if all you want is to sit a bowl of popcorn on your lap and turn your brain off for a couple hours, you could make worse choices than Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
- Jason Jarman
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