Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
In 2009, Guy Ritchie brought Sherlock Holmes back into the limelight with a funny action-packed hit starring Robert Downey Jr. as the great detective and Jude Law as his loyal companion Dr. Watson. I loved the first one, especially the moody atmosphere that captured the dank gas-lit London that I always imagined the stories taking place in. It’s sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the first sequel and it’s traded that mysterious London-based setting for more of a global adventure that feels more like a Victorian-era Bond movie than a Sherlock Holmes movie. What hasn’t changed is the wonderful chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law which very reminiscent of the characters’ relationship in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The movie opens in 1891 and we witness Irene Adler (a returning Rachel McAdams) on the way to deliver a package, while being followed by a disguised Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.). The package is meant for a Doctor Hoffmanstahl as a payment in exchange for a letter from him. Unknown to Adler, the package is actually a bomb meant to kill the doctor once he opens it and it’s only through the intervention of Sherlock Holmes that the bomb is detonated in a safe spot without any loss of life. Holmes manages to take the letter and a kiss from Adler before he leaves to find and question the doctor again. Holmes discovers that he is too late and while he was able to save the doctor once, he was too late to stop a poison dart from killing the man afterwards. Adler is also in trouble with her employer, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) who doesn’t take failure well.
Since the events of the last movie, an intellectual battle between Holmes and Moriarty has been taking place with each each side fighting for supremacy. Moriarty is the Napoleon of crime and has been extending his criminal empire world-wide. Holmes, meanwhile, has been doing his best to thwart those efforts in any way possible. When Dr. Watson arrives at his former residence he share with Holmes at 221B Baker Street, he is alarmed to find his friend in a manic mood. Watson had arrived to celebrate the bachelor party before his wedding that he thought Holmes has set up, only to learn that Holmes had completely forgotten it in his obsession with Moriarty. Holmes takes Watson to a gentleman’s club where they meet Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who lets the audience know that Germany, France, and Spain are on the verge of a war that he is trying to prevent.
Holmes has a secondary reason for going to the club besides making Watson happy, as he is there to deliver the letter he took from Adler to the gypsy fortune teller Simza (Noomi Rapace) to whom it was addressed. He is just in time, since Moriarty has sent an assassin to kill Simza and she escapes while Holmes fights the assassin. It’s not long before Moriarty meets with Holmes face to face for the first time where both men size each other up and Moriarty threatens to kill everyone that Holmes cares about. Realizing that Watson and his new wife are in danger, Holmes races to the train station where they are leaving to go on their honeymoon.
From that point forward, the movie becomes a relentless globe-trotting adventure that has Holmes and Watson tracking down Simza in Paris, then traveling to Germany to investigate a weapons factory, and finally Switzerland to stop Moriarty’s plans to create an international incident at a peace summit being held there. As I mentioned earlier, the film feels like a Bond movie with the hero racing around the world to stop a supervillain’s evil plans. It’s not until the last act of the movie, that it feels like a true Sherlock Holmes adventure. In particular, there’s quite a bit of reference to Conan Doyle’s “The Last Bow” in which Holmes and Moriarty at last have their final confrontation. Throughout the movie much like in the first film, we’ve watched Holmes’ pre-visualization of fights, where he imagines every aspect of a future fight and then plans an attack to counter his enemies and win. In a cool twist, in Game of Shadows, the fights don’t always go as he plans due to other people interfering or other unexpected reasons. When faced with Moriarty, who is just as much of a genius as Holmes, the two each pre-visualize the fight and adjust their attacks simultaneously. Not only is their battle of wits exciting to watch, but seeing Holmes face off against his equal for the first time is very cool.
Robert Downey Jr. is once again a fantastic Holmes and he captures the character’s brilliance well and adds his own manic energy and humor to the role. While his Holmes has a more martial style of fighting than Conan Doyle’s, it’s still a lot of fun to watch. Jude Law is also great as Watson which isn’t the flashier role, but he brings out the character’s dry wit and loyalty to great effect. Jared Harris is a terrific Moriarty and you believe he is just as smart if not smarter than Holmes. Harris wisely avoids hamming it up which had to be tempting and instead plays the villainy fairly low key and deadly. Moriarty doesn’t need to shout or carry on to get what he wants…he can just tap a glass to empty a restaurant to have someone killed with no fuss. A big reason this film works as well as it does is because of Moriarty being a great villain who’s a step ahead of Holmes in every way until the end when our hero rises up to the challenge.
My only real complaint about the movie is kind of what happens to most sequels, they try to get bigger and add more people. In th is case, it was Noomi Rapace’s character and the gypsies which didn’t really add anything to the plot other than some extra padding. While Rapace did a good job, her function in the movie could have just as easily been given to Irene Adler or left out entirely. On the plus side, while I missed the atmosphere of the first movie, I really enjoyed the story and the villain a lot more this time around. There are some pretty spectacular action sequences that are captured in slow motion by high speed Phantom cameras which especially do a great job showing the rain of destruction around our heroes during an artillery barrage. It’s a great time to be a fan of Sherlock Holmes as we have the excellent TV show “Sherlock” and this action-packed film franchise as well. They may focus on different aspect of Holmes and his work, but both are extremely enjoyable in their respective ways.
Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (2.40:1) transfer offers a highly detailed image and clarity that brings the world captured in the film to life. While Ritchie prefers to keep the film in mostly blues and grays with some extensive color-grading, there’s no denying the quality of this transfer. Detail is razor sharp throughout, colors (when allowed) are vibrant and true, and there’s a cinematic layer of grain present that hasn’t been scrubbed away despite the sharp picture. Black levels are rich and dark which is a good thing since so much of this movie takes place in darkened areas. This transfer provides a nice showcase for Phillipe Reousselot’s cinematography and any issues you may have with this transfer are most likely due to a creative decision by Ritchie and Rousselot than the actual transfer.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
Much like the first Sherlock Holmes movie, A Game of Shadows’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is just about perfect and a nice complement to the excellent video quality. This is one of those mixes that make you feel in the center of all of the action as every channel is used to their maximum potential. The front channels provide crystal clear dialogue which is helpful since Downey Jr. speaks about as fast as an auctioneer for most of the movie. The LFE channel makes its presence felt often and with powerful results every time there’s an explosion, punch, cannon fire, and more, which I love. The rear speakers complete the incredible sonic maelstrom with dead accurate directional sound effects and Hans Zimmer’s excellent score (which I’m listening to right now as I write this review). As a side note, the first film’s score was one of the happiest surprises for me when I heard it and this score is also fantastic although it’s a bit darker and has lost some of the whimsy of the first. In any case, this is a demo worthy mix and fans should be very very happy with it.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the extras on here are really entertaining and informative. The bad news is that a lot of the usual kind of extras you’d expect to be on the disc are located on the app for the movie rather than here where it belongs.
- Maximum Movie Mode - We are fortunate enough to get Sherlock himself – Robert Downey Jr.- himself to host this Maximum Movie Mode Picture-in-Picture track. Running the length of the movie, it features Downey Jr. talking to us directly about the movie and comment on certain scenes. It’s everything that you’d expect from Robert Downey Jr., it’s funny, sarcastic, interesting, and leaves you wanting more. Really my only complaint about this is that I wish there was more instances of his comments. In fact, there’s enough gaps that you might want to keep your remote handy so you can press the right arrow to jump to the next comment. There’s more included that just Downey Jr.’s comments however, as there’s extras called focus points where you can hit enter and get a more in depth featurette on the subject before returning back to where you left off in the movie. The focus points included are: “Holmesavision on Steroids,” “Moriarty’s Master Plan Unleashed,” “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Perfect Chemistry,” “Meet Mycroft Holmes,” “Sherlock Holmes: Under the Gypsy Spell,” “Guy Ritchie’s Well-Oiled Machine,” and “Holmes Without Borders.” This extra is great and one of the great lines from Downey Jr. when he said, “I look forward to squeezing the juice out of Stephen Fry’s lemons.” That’s out of context, but if you want to hear the whole thing, you’ll have to watch it! I enjoyed this feature so much that I ended up watching the movie a second time!
- A Game of Shadows Movie App – Most of the time, I’m not too worried about getting the film’s app since I really don’t want to be watching my phone at the same time as I watch the movie. In this case however, there’s a good reason why you should. Instead of putting the traditional extras on the disc (like they should), Warners has put them into this app. If you’re looking for behind the scenes goodies, info on the characters and locations, comparisons, and more, then you will need to get this app. I’m all for getting all the extras you can get but I’m a firm believer of putting them on the disc itself.
Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
With this new Sherlock Holmes entry, it definitely moves into the blockbuster territory with all of the good and bad baggage that goes along with it. While the more international stage offers Holmes a breakneck adventure as he journeys from place to place, it also deprives the film of the fog enshrouded London as the primary location. The idea to bring in a lot of extra characters hurts the film as it takes time away from Holmes and Watson, which is the team I really want to see. The one area where the film easily surpassed the first is having Moriarty as the villain as he forces Holmes to raise his game. The stakes are a lot higher in this movie and far more personal which also adds a lot to the movie. Downey Jr., Law, Harris, and the rest of the cast are excellent in their roles and I’m looking forward to seeing the next one down the road. In the meantime, this Blu-ray is an easy one to recommend with it’s incredible video and audio quality.
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