Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has the problem in that it constantly zig-zags between being genuinely good and being an amateurish mess. The whole thing feels like it had two people constantly wrestling for control over the film, one who knew what he was doing and the other being the personification of every fear and criticism of longtime Sherlock fans.
You can see examples of both in just the opening few minutes – The film jarringly begins with no easing the audience into events and just outright declaring
Europe is under siege and on edge. It constantly tells you this but almost never shows you it.
The film then reunites Holmes with Irene Addler and gives some brief chemistry between the two, showing off Holmes’ ability to witness events and disguise himself. Unfortunately the interaction between the two is extremely fleeting, Holmes seems to have become sloppy, making major mistakes and his disguise is obviously fake and barely hides his identity.
This then moves into a fight scene between Holmes and several thugs, trying to again show Holmes’ combat prowess and quickly display his skills. What we get is shockingly bad editing and cinematography. The entire thing is shot almost entirely in close ups, constantly moving to prevent the audience seeing any of what’s taking place.
This just keeps going, Holmes being treated as comic relief and good ideas are mired by poor presentation, until the film drops a bridge on Irene Addler and the credits roll.
Very little in the film shows anything near the skill Guy Ritchie displayed with the original and the while thing is a mess. Probably the best examples of this are where certain gimmicks seem to practically take over the film.
Holmes goes through three or four times the number of disguises seen in the original, at one point looking uncannily like Doctor Frank N Furter, while treating his insanity as slapstick humour in contrast to the dark, deadpan displays of the original. He’s written like some crackpot inventor rather than someone who is literally bored to the point of dementia, needing work to stay sane.
Zack Snyder apparently hijacked the film for a few minutes as well, as there is a massive running gunfight with explosions, artillery and machine guns which is shot almost entirely in speed-up-slow-down effects. If this wasn’t enough we also get ten minutes of “ultra-sound” effects. That irritating silence filled with micro-sound effects as the film seems to focus upon tiny details, displaying everything in extreme close ups, without there being any reason for it.
A Game of Shadows seems to be bursting with energy – trying to display its potential in every way possible but it lacks restraint and focus. There’s no where near enough quiet moments and it rushes through so much it feels like it lacks any substance. It makes the film feel cheap more than anything else.
Yet in spite of all this there is some good here. On the opposite end of the quality spectrum all of the acting cast do well here with Holmes and Watson’s strained friendship being a constant source of enjoyment. Stephen Fry is, well, Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes and while underused elevates any scene he’s in to some of the A Game of Shadows’ best. The comedy tends to veer into the slapstick but occasional gems like those seen in the original shine through and reminds you why the first film worked so well.
Moriarty is displayed as being a credible threat who treats Holmes’ efforts like an every day occurrence, contrasting with previous incarnations, and Jared Harris’ performance gives a unique spin on the character.
The few action scenes manage to escape the editor and frenzied cinematography do prove to be fun, especially one sequence on a train. Featuring clever ideas, heroics and the sort of overt destruction you’d expect to see by now.
The 2009 Sherlock Holmes is in here but it’s buried beneath a great deal of bad ideas and awkwardly implemented concepts. By all rights this should be something advised to avoid all together, but the few moments of humour and actual enjoyment present in here means it’s worth seeing. Barely.
Wait to rent this one out on DVD if you’re going to see it, just brace yourself for some major flaws.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and all related characters and media are owned by Warner Bros. Pictures.