It is pretty much guaranteed in the world of Hollywood that if your film is financially successful a sequel will soon follow. This decision oftentimes comes without concern for quality or artistic expression: Transformers II and III, Sex and the City 2, Son of the Mask, Speed II, The Matrix Reloaded… and the list goes one. However, there are some subjects that beg for a sequel, Sherlock Holmes falls into this category. Already with several ”sequels” in literature, four novels and fifty-six short stories, it seems only fitting that the screen version should follow suit. And with Guy Richie at the helm and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the leading roles the recipe seems sure for success. Yet, oddly, the buzz that surrounded the fist Sherlock has been absent from the release of the second. An interesting fact that I will return to in a moment.
Dr. Watson (Law) is about to set off on his own personal adventure. He is to marry the lovely Emily (Kelly Reilly). Sherlock, serving as the best man, throws Watson a stag party and convinces Watson to have one last adventure together where they face Sherlock’s archenemy Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). Like all things that Sherlock touches, their “one last adventure” becomes complicated into two hours and nine minutes of story. Unfortunately, it is two hours and nine minutes of story that are lacking the intrigue, cleverness and dare I say mystery.
The appeal of a Sherlock story has always been that you, the reader, or in this case viewer, are at the center of the story. As if inside of Sherlock’s head, the audience gets to peek at the inner workings of “master detective,” piecing together clues all while feeling like one is actively participating in Sherlock’s shenanigans that seem to inevitably end in a action packed fight sequence. the experience should leave you pumped with adrenaline and thinking like a super-sleuth when exiting the theater. Sadly, this is not the case for A Game of Shadows, which led me to ponder, just exactly what went wrong?
The director, Guy Richie, is one and the same. Stylistically he pushes the limits. His signature slow motion scenes become redundant, over used and almost gimmicky in this second installment. A concept that worked so well for him in the first film plops in the second, detracting from the tension of the story rather than adding to it. Downey’s performance is tired. Sure, there are glimmers of his wit and vitality that I loved in the first film, but in this second film he simply feels worn out. Law’s Watson is consistent and well acted and the addition of Noomi Rapace is welcomed, although does not contain the powerful performance she delivers as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish Dragon Tattoo series. The scene steal-er is Stephen Fry in the role of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes. Throughout the film it is Fry who not only carries, but seemingly rescues the scene.
So, what exactly went wrong in a film that on all account should have been a successful sequel? I am gonna blame this one on the writing. Writers Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, simply put, do not capture the spirit of a good Sherlock story; not once did I feel in it. While the actions scenes are all in good fun, that Sherlock element is lost. The audience is not left unraveling a mystery, but rather stumbling along connecting the dots of the plot. It feels predictable, certainly not the signature of a good Sherlock mystery. And while Fry’s performance is fantastic, it is not enough to make Sherlock, well, Sherlock. Better luck next time, and yes, even though this is a flop, there should be a next time. It is not all about the numbers.