Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry
Arthur Conan Doyle, Kieran Mulroney, Michele Mulroney
Robert Downey Jr. has one essential "flaw" as an actor.
You might even consider it a strength, even though it can certainly work against the gifted actor's marketability.
Quite simply, he can't fake it.
Now then, of course, acting is a "fake it" sort of profession. That's why they call it "acting." Downey's a terrific actor, but he simply can't fake his way through sub-par material and his disinterested and uninspired performance in this second Sherlock Holmes flick is likely indicative of the fact that Downey knows quite well that this is a "been there, seen that" production.
Nearly everything that felt fresh and fun in the first Sherlock Holmes feels tired and labored this time around. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows isn't really an awful film, just an awfully familiar one. This time around, Holmes squares off with one of his most intriguing rivals, Professor Moriarty (Mad Men's Jared Harris), who exudes arrogance and projects a degree of intellectual superiority. Harris underplays Professor Moriarty, an entertaining and appealing contrast to the more bombastic approach of Downey and his returning counterpart, Holmes (Jude Law).
The film once again sales to what success it has on the chemistry between Downey and Law. Their pairing was a stroke of genius, and while Downey's definitely less compelling this time around his screen time with Law gives the film a good majority of its highlights.
Watson is set to marry but, of course, Holmes finds himself distracted when he meets a Romani fortune teller (Noomi Rapace, the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) at a drunken stag party. Madam Simza Heron is searching for her missing brother, a mystery that Holmes can't help but become involved in despite Watson's pending nuptials. The film becomes a battle of wills and wits as Holmes drags along Watson and they head out after Moriarty, whom it is believed is responsible for escalating tensions between Germany and France with terrorist bombings that are done with incredible discretion.
While the scenes between Holmes and Law continue to sizzle with electricity and fun, the scenes between Holmes and Moriarty are filled with verbal jousting and intelligent banter. Downey has always been the kind of actor who could pull out a snide comment without ever making his lips move, and his scenes with Harris are among the few scenes where his performance perks up and he actually seems interested in what's going on.
Poor Noomi Rapace, who was so incredible in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is given almost nothing to do here as a Victorian era gypsy. While this may very well prove to be a great career move anyway should the film kick butt at the box-office, it's a serious let down after her breakthrough Oscar-worthy performance.
While Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem," the only Doyle novel in which Professor Moriarty appeared, it's definitely not an adaptation and diehard Sherlock Holmes who didn't see Ritchie's original film will no doubt be disappointed. If, however, you're already familiar with Ritchie's re-imagining then this film will be no less challenging.
The film also has Guy Ritchie still being Guy Ritchie, though his directorial style feels less intrusive than it did in the first film despite being a bit redundant. Ritchie still incorporates an excessive amount of slo-mo, effective when Downey's using it to plan out his action sequences but not so effective in every other instance. There are a few rather exciting action sequences, though it's hard not to wish that Ritchie would slow it down on occasion and allow the verbal jousting to really take center stage as both Downey and Law can be a tremendous amount of fun with the spoken word.
If you enjoyed the first Sherlock Holmes, then A Game of Shadows most likely has enough contained within it to hold your interest. A stronger villain, as well, may build even more intrigue and fun than did the original film despite a lower key, less interested Downey and fewer opportunities to enjoy the still enjoyable chemistry between Downey and Law. Some of you will unquestionably consider this film at least modestly superior to its predecessor, but for most this Sherlock Holmes may be one too many.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic