Despite my Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac, Iron Man and Tropic Thunder love for Robert Downey Jr., as well as an awkward fondness for Jude Law and his crazy hairline, the predecessor for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, didn’t meet my entertainment litmus test, which means I was lukewarm in my initial viewing, fell asleep in the second and have not watched the movie since, nor do I have plans to pop in the Blu-ray anytime soon. Seems harsh, right? Well, sleepy time at the movies can make me grouchy, because I never fall asleep in the movie theater. Last time? 1979 when I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture with my dad. True story. As for Sherlock Holmes, most of the time I just couldn’t follow what was happening – the edits sucked, the cinematography was dark – and to be frank, it seemed the story revolved more around how much Downey Jr. the filmmakers could thrust at the viewer than on story. Definitely not one of my favorite films. Sigh. Sad face.
Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately in some cases, when a film costs $90 million and it reaps half a billion dollars, sequels are greenlit, budgets are increased ($125 million) and Guy Ritchie gets another change to either delight me or make me cranky. Maybe his 2008 divorce from Madonna is more in the rear view mirror than before, because this time around Ritchie’s A Game of Shadows is crisp, quick, easier to digest and relies more on a plethora of delightful characters and camaraderie than it does on the talents (and overuse) of Downey Jr.
Another reason Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows succeeds? The movie’s villain – Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) is more like Hannibal Lecter than he is the other film’s mysterious baddie, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), and Harris projects this confident sinister ambience in every scene he inhabits. Also, fans of the first movie should remember Moriarty was teased as the next bad guy, as Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) revealed to Holmes (Downey Jr.) the prominent professor was and is her employer and that he would be a formidable rival to London’s greatest detective. And this is where the story begins with A Game of Shadows: Holmes is investigating bombings aroundEurope and believes they are being devised by Moriarty. Of course Holmes’ trustworthy partner and friend, Dr. Watson (Jude Law) – and his lovely fiancé, Mary (Kelly Reilly) get roped into a post-wedding adventure across Europe that finds the group mingling with gypsies inParis, including Sim (Noomi Rapace), and trekking off toGermany to discover Moriarty’s evil designs. I’ll leave the storyline alone, as I don’t want to spoil any surprises, twists and turns, but suffice it to say, this is one of those rare times a the sequel is absolutely better than the original.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a complete movie – action, laughs, a smidgen of romance – and all told with Ritchie’s unique flair for storytelling, an old-fashioned mystery infused with a modern edge. Downey Jr. and Law’s partnership and friendship makes this movie flow and coupled with Harris’ performance as Professor Moriarty, the trio combine to make this one of the best sequels in recent memory and definitely has me looking forward to the inevitable third Sherlock Holmes flick.