The immediate reaction one has to this Sherlock franchise is that no one involved in the making of it could've come near to reading a single page of the Conan Doyle stories. This is not a matter of literary sour grapes as in, "Oh, but the book was better," or "How dare they turn Holmes into a James Bond action hero!" Actually, much of that action-hero stuff is fun and acceptable in a re-imagining of classic material. No, the problem lies in the fact that the stories had something else other than charm and fun. They were damn good stories. With mysteries that kept you interested right until the final page, where Holmes makes all leaps and bounds of logic to reveal that what seemed impossible was only almost impossible. As Holmes has said, "Once you've eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." The truth about this Game of Shadows and its predecessor is that neither has a story worthy of its hero. The story is not only often improbable, it is often simply impossible to follow. Now, I must admit that A Game of Shadows does do a better job of spitting out a story. The first film may well have been in written in Pig Latin for all the sense it made moving from scene to scene. This one flows much better in its attempts to mix elements of The Final Problem with gypsies, naked Mycrofts, and political assassinations. Downey Jr. and Jude Law are both well settled in their roles and, in fact, are the primary reason to see the film. They have fun with the characters in a His Girl Friday kind of way, with Holmes acting as a Walter Burns to Watson's Hildy Johnson. Watson hesitantly looks forward to settling down with his bride-to-be (Kelly Reilly) while Holmes tries to convince him that marriage is like purgatory and the only real life is one of excitement and danger.
Somewhere between these scenes of character comedy is a plot involving Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). It seems that the "Napoleon of Crime" has lit the fuse on a dastardly plot to start a world war by assassinating the leader of a world power at a peace conference in Switzerland. It's up to Holmes and Watson to stop him, with the aid of a gypsy fortune teller played blandly by the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace. Downey Jr. and Jared Harris play well off each other, with Harris in particular giving a very strong and detailed performance as Moriarty. Rarely has this stock villain role seemed more three-dimensional. When the film was over I felt I understood Moriarty better than I ever had before.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a major improvement over the previous entry. It's a fast-moving, confident piece of entertainment, well played by its cast and with a great, tongue -in-cheek score by Hans Zimmer. The Blu-Ray of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.4:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, French and Spanish audio tracks, and includes Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet versions of the film, as well as a free interactive movie app. Thanks, Warners, but I don't really get excited about movie apps, Ultraviolets, or spare DVDs of the same movie. I now have a coaster I can use when watching the film on a hot summer day. The upside is that the image and sound quality is fantastic.
Warner’s Maximum Movie Mode includes the standard array of behind-the-scenes footage and "focus point" featurettes, none of which are particularly informative but have the usual self-congratulatory air that everyone involved was brilliant and nothing you could be doing in your life could be any cooler than to be working on a movie like Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. But then again, if you are like me, sitting here typing this in the dark, then that's probably true.
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