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With: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Paul Anderson, Kelly Reilly, Geraldine James, Eddie Marsan, William Houston, Wolf Kahler, Iain Mitchell, Jack Laskey, Patricia Slater
Written by: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material
Running Time: 129
Date: 12/10/2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Without a Clue

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What is the appeal of Sherlock Holmes? In the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, he's very smart, and he solves puzzles in reverse. He looks at an object, or a situation, or a person, comes up with several bizarre conclusions, and then after a period of bafflement, he explains how he came up with them. He's obsessive and somewhat witty, in a slightly damaged way, and forever wanting input. He has let only one person into his circle: the good Doctor Watson. Watson is the narrator, the chronicler, and the constant wide-eyed audience for Holmes' tricks.

Now, what is the appeal of Guy Ritchie's movie Sherlock Holmes (2009)? Robert Downey Jr. makes a perfect Holmes, also in constant need of input, clever, funny, and able to do a perfect English accent. Jude Law makes a perfect Watson, just slightly less interesting than the star, but embodying all of Watson's sturdy qualities.

So what went wrong with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Ritchie's second movie in what could presumably become a series? Basically, Ritchie forgot about all the things that were appealing about the original stories and the previous movie.

Now Holmes is almost a supporting character. There are far too many scenes in which he doesn't appear or is not the focus. Whereas Holmes is usually self-centered and emotionless, he's now worried about Watson's new marriage, and about losing his friend forever. This Holmes is apparently unable to function without Watson. (Their relationship here is decidedly homoerotic; they even dance together in one scene.) Watson is more or less the lead here; he frets about the safety of his new wife (Kelly Reilly), and is -- for some reason -- now as good at deducting things as Holmes ever was.

There's no mystery. The plot is all about Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) attempting to start a world war so that he can profit from it. That's it. It's not even a clever plan... just a greedy one. And it's not particularly challenging to figure out. So there's nothing for Holmes to detect here, or deduct, except for some small, insignificant moments that go by far too fast.

The real focus is on fighting. In several scenes, Holmes pre-imagines all the moves in an approaching brawl, and then intercepts them before they happen. This would be fine, if Holmes were a superhero. But he's a detective. He's supposed to be using his brain.

Indeed, there's nothing wrong with changing things around when adapting familiar characters to the screen, but Ritchie has systematically made bad choices in each case. Everything that worked, or was appealing, before is now turned into something much more simplistic, and without reason. Even the many fights, chases, and explosions in this movie are terribly run-of-the-mill and uninspired. In short, it's a matter of changing an intellectual character into a physical character, but meanwhile betraying everything intellectual and physical.

I did like the expanded character of Holmes' brother Mycroft, played by Stephen Fry, and I liked the couple of scenes in which Holmes and Moriarty sit down together for some tense discussions. Noomi Rapace is here as a gypsy, presumably because she was popular last year as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but she does little more than gape. Rachel McAdams has a few scenes as Irene Adler, but -- again -- without the appeal that character had in the last movie. Downey is fine and funny in a couple of scenes, but there's a profound sense of waste; we want much, much more from him.

Warner Home Video has released a two-disc combo pack with a DVD, a Blu-ray and a digital copy. The big extra is "maximum movie mode," hosted -- happily -- by Robert Downey Jr., who delivers the expected kooky riffs. There's also about 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and a promo for a movie-related app, which can somehow be synced to the Blu-ray for more interactive madness. Movie and sound quality are superb, which is to be expected.

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