If you feel somewhat hesitant about seeing the sequel to a favorite movie of yours, your reservations are perfectly natural.
While I was thrilled at the prospect of watching Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows, I also prepared myself in advance for the seemingly inevitable disappointment which is inherit with all sequels.
At the same time, I kept reminding myself of how little I thought of the first movie before I saw it.Having read all of the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories, I had first reacted to the original trailer with disgust, convinced they had turned a beloved literary character into a modern-day travesty at the hands of British action director, Guy Ritchie.Yet, when I actually saw it, I immediately loved it.
Sherlock Holmes had its flaws, to be sure, but so many things worked wonderfully well.Robert Downey Jr. managed to capture Holmes’ bohemian lifestyle in a way no other actor had. Jude Law, who played John Watson, transformed what had formerly been a bumbling sidekick into a man who serves as both a complement and foil to Holmes.
Needless to say, my expectations were instinctively ramped up for the sequel which, unfortunately didn’t help.A Game of Shadows picks up where the first film left off. Holmes continues to pursue Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), the elusive figure from the previous film. After months and months of bombings taking place all over Europe, Holmes concludes Moriarty intends to start a world war.
While Watson tries to leave his partnership with Holmes behind him, he is thrust back into the fray when he and his wife, Mary, (Kelly Reilly) are targeted by Moriarty. As they attempt to unravel Moriarty’s plan and stop him, they are accompanied by gypsy woman, Sim (Noomi Rapace), who replaces Rachael McAdams’ Irene Adler.
Unlike the first film, the audience finally sees Moriarty in the flesh, and Harris does a commendable job of portraying a man of genius intellect and moral indifference. His calm and urbane demeanor perfectly masks his true character.
Although the overall plot deals with the geopolitical instability in Europe, the true story is the conflict between Holmes and Moriarty, both of whom are determined to outwit, outsmart or outfight their opponent.
One of the best scenes in the film has them playing a game of chess – without having to move the pieces – followed by a theoretical fight in which the outcome is logically deduced by both men without throwing a single punch.
The movie suffers, however, because this duel of intellect, based on deductive reasoning, is not fully explored. Holmes and Moriarty hardly have more than 15 minutes on-screen together. Instead, much of it is wasted on Sim, who does not add anything to the film. While McAdams’ Adler allowed us to see Holmes’ sole romantic vulnerability, there is nothing interesting about Sim’s character.
Additionally, the film also introduces Holmes’ brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry) who serves as comic relief, but also has one of the most unnecessary nude scenes in cinematic history. His presence in the film is welcome, but he does not bring anything substantial to the movie, either.
One of the strongest aspect of the first film was the strong chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law, and Ritchie appropriately includes plenty of one-liners and lighthearted fights between them. My only qualm is that some of the jokes were so absurd they almost seemed to drag Holmes down into self-parody.
I’m also not certain Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes’ creator, would have wanted him to ever be dressed in drag, even if it’s merely a disguise in order to manipulate the outcome of a gunfight moments before it occurs.
I can count on one hand the number of sequels which either met or surpassed the quality of the original film – The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, Toy Story 2 and The Dark Knight – and there is a reason for it. The difference between these films and the countless other sequels is that rather than take the elements from its predecessor and simply multiple it, it introduces a separate conflict and becomes a separate film in its own right.
A great example of this is The Dark Knight. The whole film is a philosophical debate between Batman, who represents order, and the Joker, who represents chaos. The Joker attempts to prove his belief – that everyone is essentially as depraved as he is – by testing Batman’s resolve again and again, who eventually emerges untainted. None of this is discussed in the previous film, Batman Begins.
A Game of Shadows had plenty of opportunity to do the same. Both Holmes and Moriarty are geniuses in their own right, yet their fundamental beliefs have caused them to take opposite paths in life. Moriarty is a renowned university professor, wealthy businessman and celebrated author who secretly perpetuates murder, assassination and crime. Holmes subsists off of his work as a detective for hire, is relatively unknown and attempts to remain so. His passion is solving riddles and bringing criminals to justice.
But, unlike the Joker, Moriarty never attempts to strike at the heart of what makes Holmes who is he or force him to question it. Holmes is never torn between two desires.
The audience is temporarily duped for a moment into thinking he has, only to find it is another example of Holmes’ ingenuity. Ultimately, Holmes manages to outwit Moriarty in such a way that makes it hard to believe Moriarty could have been so easily fooled.
Thus, A Game of Shadows is an enjoyable, but nevertheless typical sequel – all the elements from the first film are doubled or tripled, but nothing new is introduced or explored about the character.
It is certainly well-worth seeing, but what hurts it is not so much the film itself but the fact that – as the first film demonstrated – it had the potential to be so much more.