Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - movie review

Two years ago, I wrote a five-star review of Guy Ritchie’s over-caffeinated take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s titular character, the one and only Sherlock Holmes.  I was blown away by the prowess that Ritchie achieved in making over the Holmes character.  Diving head in, Ritchie resurrected the madly inventive character with a blissfully cerebral and brutal framework that echoed the character’s strengths and addictions and jammed him in a movie that played to the chemistry between actors Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

If there was a weak link in the movie, it came from the rather mundane meddling of its villain.  Ultimately, Professor Moriarty, Holmes’s great equal and main nemesis, was hinted at but his menacing presence went largely unfelt.  Thankfully, A Game of Shadows fixes that with the inclusion of Jared Harris as Moriarty and a masterful story that tackles war-profiting with a new cinematic gusto courtesy of the celebrated photographic aesthetics cinematographer Philippe Rousselot.

Yes, friends and cherished foes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is, in my humble opinion, another five-star affair.  Full of great steampunk flair, a cinematic palette of style and saturation that extends the world of the original, and a villain who is as charming as he is smarmy, Ritchie’s second outing nearly topples the original in its bromance and bravado and, at moments, much more confident in its steely swagger than ever before.

Written by the husband-and-wife team of Kieran and Michele Mulroney, A Game of Shadows picks up about a year from the original’s events.  Holmes (Downey) is hot on the trail of a criminal mastermind that seems to be just one step ahead of him at all times.  Professor James Moriarty (Harris) is running an intellectual advantage over the great detective and uses Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) to draw Holmes into a mystery that begins with the murder of the Crown Prince of Austria and has Holmes, Dr. Watson (Law),  Mycroft Holmes (a very naked Stephen Fry) traveling from England to France to Germany and, finally, to Switzerland.

Obsessed with the connections he sees alone, Holmes plays down Watson’s marriage to   Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) and risks the life of Simza (Noomi Rapace, the original dragon-tattooed girl), a Gypsy fortune teller, as he frenetically pursues his intellectual equal whose mild-mannered disguise as a respected scholar and well-read author keeps him in the public eye and far away from the similarly-faced henchmen who assassinate political targets and plant pedestrian-killing bombs.

Downey provides the cross-dressing laughs as he mixes his particular brand of mischief with a healthy dose of physicality as director Ritchie delves deeper into the Holmes-vision mechanics of his street fighting credentials.  Once again, purists who could not see past the writing need not come a-knocking upon this sequel’s door.  Yes, the addictions are there – and plus! – but so is the stylized gunplay (the forest sequence is damn genius and so virtually kinetic it’s to be praised) and the hand-to-hand combat scenes.

There’s a looser vibe to A Game of Shadows, though.  One that is more inviting, less strict to the Doyle code of heroics.  Warner Bros is relaxed enough and confident enough with the success of the original to let Ritchie cut loose a bit.  A Game of Shadows is dynamically amped with more unhinged Holmes in scenes where his detective work at includes a study of invisibility and ever-ready narcotics.  The film is theatrically visual, more hysterical and wholly bloodier.  There are more mad ninja-like skills on display in the streets and lots and lots of swashbuckling bravado inside and outside of trains, through dark forests, damp dungeons, and dizzying heights.  Holmes even has a ride on a miniature horse in scenes that photographically play off ans spoof those mythological stories we are so used to.

If this sounds like a “boys only” adventure, well, it is.  Sadly, Rapace has little to do but flip a fortune card over and care for Holmes when he is wounded.  McAdams opens the narrative to connect us to the original tale, but her story ends quite – as we can only guess – suddenly and tragically.  Reilly is amusingly disposed of from a train with assurances from Holmes that she is being looked after by his brother.  One by one, the women are plucked from the tale and tucked away.  In fact, the only femininity of the picture comes from a cross-dressing Downey, but – alas – it is all in good Pirates of the Caribbean fun.

Don’t fear, though.  Holmes has everything planned out.  No corner is unturned and no scenario unplanned for.  He even out-guesses the audience at times proving that, much like the first, pure popcorn escapism is a fun – and high-styled - night out at the movies.

5 Stars



Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - movie reviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material.
: Guy Ritchie
: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr.; Jude Law; Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams; Stephen Fry; Jared Harris
: Action | Adventure | Crime
A Game of Shadows
Memorable Movie Quote: "I see your web of conspiracy has expanded."
Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date: December 16, 2011
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
June 12, 2012

Synopsis: Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has always been the smartest man in the room... until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large—Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris)—and not only is he Holmes' intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective. When the Crown Prince of Austria is found dead, the evidence, as construed by Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), points to suicide. But Sherlock Holmes deduces that the prince has been the victim of murder—a murder that is only one piece of a larger and much more portentous puzzle, designed by Professor Moriarty. The cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead of Holmes as he spins a web of death and destruction—all part of a greater plan that, if he succeeds, will change the course of history.


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Component Grades
Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars
4 stars
Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - June 12, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Cantonese, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Thai
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Thai: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; DVD copy; Bonus View (PiP); Mobile features
Playback: Region-free

Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot’s beautiful work gets the deluxe treatment with this faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer. Colors are muted to suit the almost dull newsprint styling of director Guy Ritchie’s vision of the Holmes world and - while blues and grays may dominate the picture – there is a very fine-tuned filmic detailing that comes through in HD.  You’ll notice the stray hairs in Holmes’ wigs and the flaws in his quick disguises and witness the gloss of the buttons on Watson’s military wear. The acclaimed Holmesavision moments are stylistically presented with a slight 3D enhancement to really give your eyes a pop.  Shadows are deep and keep their shape even at night. Ritchie used the Phantom camera for a lot of the slow motion shots and the detail revealed here is superb. Warner Bros does not disappoint with the quality of the transfer.  Also of note is the immersive quality of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Turn it up and let the walls shake with the sounds of late 19th century life.



  • Hosted by Robert Downey Jr., Warner’s Maximum Movie Mode gives fans the chance to watch the film with Sherlock himself.  Does Downey deliver the goods? Yes. The commentary is a lively one and the picture-in-picture technology is used to full effect here.  Downey’s face is expressive as he goes through the production history and the on-the-spot improvising that went on between himself and Jude Law.  It’s actually great fun and well worth the inclusion.

Special Features:

Things slow down a bit here.  There’s a downloadable ap that will grant you access to behind-the-scenes featurettes, script-to-screen comparisons, maps, character bios and other information, but – honestly – this feature is only for Sherlock Holmes eggheads and people addicted to special features.  There other feature is recycled from the commentary and features about 35 minutes of behind-the-scenes production glimpses.  The segments are labeled as "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."  Not sure we need to see those twice but for those people who aren’t going to watch Downey comment on the movie, well, it might be interesting.

  • Focus Points (35 min)