Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Bros. Pictures, PG-13)

 

film sherlock-holmes-2_75Robert Downey Jr. is phoning in his performance, and is dangerously close to becoming a parody of himself.

 

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There was a lot of skepticism when it was announced that Robert Downey Jr. would be playing Sherlock Holmes in a film directed by Guy Ritchie. Ritchie had long since gone off the rails with the films Swept Away and Revolver, and people were hesitant about the idea of an overly stylized, action-packed Sherlock Holmes starring an American actor. The film ended up being a watered-down mix of Iron Man and Pirates of the Caribbean, but also one that was thoroughly enjoyable. Now we have Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which is a watered-down version of the 2009 film. That’s a very watery movie.

A Game of Shadows follows the same template of the first Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Watson (Jude Law) bicker like an old married couple, with Holmes constantly getting Watson into trouble. Watson is getting married and Holmes doesn’t want to lose his friend and partner. There is a sinister villain whose schemes threaten the world as we know it, and there are a series of bombastic action sequences loosely connected by the investigation. They even imitate the first film by casting a talented actress and underutilizing her skills.

All of the stuff we’ve seen before feels tired now. There are still enjoyable character moments between Downey and Law, and some enjoyable fight scenes in which Holmes can predict his opponent’s every move and plan out the fight before it begins. Those scenes are silly and over the top, but if you have to make an action hero of Sherlock Holmes, that’s as good a way as any to do so. Hans Zimmer is back doing the score, and while his work the first time around felt fresh and interesting, here it simply feels like more of the same—although he does use Ennio Morricone’s theme from Two Mules for Sister Sara at one point, of which I am a fan.

This film does have one card up its sleeve which could have taken it to new heights. The villain of this film is Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ longtime nemesis. He is played by the little-known actor Jared Harris, son of Richard Harris, who has been giving solid performances in very small roles for some time now. This could have been his huge breakthrough role, and this film could have been The Dark Knight with Holmes facing off against his Joker. Unfortunately, Harris doesn’t have much to do here, and the scene where he and Downey first come face to face has all the weight of the rival news teams facing off in Anchorman.

It hurts me to say it, but I think I’m tired of Robert Downey Jr. I’ve been a fan for quite some time. He’s always played the same character, but the joy was in seeing that character in different situations. That character had a different dynamic in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang than he did in Zodiac or A Scanner Darkly. In Iron Man, it was fresh to see him as the lead in a big-budget action movie, and that carried over into Sherlock Holmes. But in Iron Man 2 and this second Sherlock Holmes film, he seems bored. He is phoning in his performances, and is dangerously close to becoming a parody of himself.

There are enjoyable moments to be had in Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows, but they are few and far between. I was actually pretty engaged by the climactic sequence in the third act. It was less about explosive action and more about mind games, which in this context works better. Too bad this section comes after a lot of meandering. By the time we got into the stuff I really liked, I was already wanting the movie to end. This film offers nothing that isn’t done better in the 2009 version. And if you want an even fresher take, check out the fantastic BBC series Sherlock. I’m not as well versed in earlier cinematic portrayals of the character, but either of those options would be more worthwhile than watching this film. | Sean Lass

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