I thought I knew what I was getting myself into with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which was something along the lines of the first one but with more explosions, bromance, and absurdities. Well, consider those boxes checked. What I wasn’t expecting was that it would be, well, kind of good.
Don’t let me mislead you. This isn’t a searching examination of the human spirit, or even a really good action movie along the lines of The Dark Knight or The Fugitive. Instead, it’s an extremely silly but also entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Though the explosions and slow-motion actions scenes drag at times, they are, for the most part, judiciously employed, and Robert Downey Jr is as hammy as he was in the first go-‘round. The plot, meanwhile, is ludicrous and often predictable, based on the efforts of Holmes’s archnemesis James Moriarty to set off a world war so that he can sell weapons and other supplies to both sides. The fate of Europe hangs in the balance!
How is this different from The Three Musketeers, one of the year’s most abominable films? Even the plots are similar: essentially, we’re given the fact that there’s going to be a big war unless our heroes sort things out. Both are steampunk period pieces, and both want us to take the respective protagonists as major ass-kickers. Yet for some reason it all works much better in Sherlock, and for two primary reasons that I can see: the villain is a match for the protagonists, and the rapport between the characters actually has some kind of weight. Sure, Noomi Rapace is entirely disposable (it’s not clear why she had to be in this movie at all), and director Guy Ritchie, for whom the concept of subtlety has about the same level of importance that it does to Lady Gaga, never shies away from pointing out that Sherlock and Watson are all-caps BEST FRIENDS even when they proclaim their annoyance. For all that, though, there’s a real sense of camaraderie between them, a sense that they have each other’s back.
Perhaps what really makes the movie tick is the way that the heroes are juxtaposed with Moriarty, played with silky malevolence by Jared Harris. Where Watson and Holmes will risk everything to save each other’s lives, Moriarty will risk nothing for anyone but himself, killing off his lieutenants when they fail him and promising Holmes early on that continued pursuit will result in collateral damage. And, though the film leans a bit too much on its chess metaphor, he’s made to be an equal match for Holmes, which gives the climactic meeting between them a dramatic tension that you’d be hard-pressed to find in most contemporary blockbusters. In the first film, it seemed inevitable that Holmes and Watson would win through. In this film, things don’t seem so certain, and that makes it that much more interesting.
This is, in other words, a satisfying popcorn movie, good for a couple of laughs, a couple of groans, and enough entertainment to make it worth the price of the ticket. If you manage your expectations, you won’t be disappointed. There are no revelations about friendship or love or any of that nonsense to be had — only a bunch of explosions, and some share of fun.