If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Despite some of the things that people have said about this movie, this is actually a movie that is worthy of being a sequel to the last Sherlock Holmes! Although it may be worthy of the last film, is it superior or is it another entertaining yet slightly disappointing continuation of the previous story and pre-existing characters?
This time around, fans of Holmes & Watson's (Robert Downey Jr & Jude Law respectively) adventures will be pleased to know that we get a Dark Knight style story involving these two classic English detectives as we are introduced to Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), the biggest bad guy in Sherlock Holmes lore and one that is considered his physical and intellectual equal. While Sherlock Holmes is considered eccentric by some and insane by others, Moriarty seems to be a gentleman of good taste but that's only to cover up his truly psychotic mind and it's because of these contrasts that they're considered the greatest of opponents. Like Superman's relationship to Lex Luthor and Batman's relationship to the Joker after them, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty are very much alike in terms of how brilliant they are and how much they have in common with their backgrounds and yet their experiences that have shaped their outlooks and ideologies so radically at different ends of the scale that each man despises yet admires the other. Their relationship is the driving force of this movie and for the most part, it works quite well even though Moriarty is kept too much in the shadows to be considered a truly horrifying menace. Maybe both men are more intellectual opponents rather than physical but Moriarty's true villainy probably could have been demonstrated better if he played more of an active part in his own scheme rather than just being the master manipulator 95% of the time while Holmes and Watson fight their way through his goons until the very end.
The way Moriarty's plot is set up is almost like a video game where your two main heroes have to fight through a bunch of nobodies and solve a bunch of puzzles in order to get to where the big boss is waiting for you and then trying to learn what he's all about in the last few minutes before the big climactic fight happens instead of learning about him and his reasons for his crimes throughout the story and even having a big encounter with him partway through before the final showdown. While there are encounters between Holmes and Moriarty throughout the story, there never is a real sense of conflict and tension between these two enemies until the very end and if those encounters were written a little bit differently, we could've had a much more interesting movie to watch. Even though Batman and the Joker only get face time two times in The Dark Knight, we still get a feeling that both have known of the other's existence and have been fighting each other for a long time even if they've only been in the same room a couple of times. The Joker's crimes invoked Batman's rage and drive to bring him to justice along with the dilemma inside his soul of trying to figure out whether killing the Joker would actually be the better choice in the long run and Batman's continuous refusal to kill the Joker caused the criminal to keep doing what he was doing. For the most part, their actions spoke for who they were and what their conflict was and that added to the tension in the film to the point when the story called for them to be in the same room, the room was electric and no one could take their eyes off of them in case one of them would snap and start a big fight in either banter or combat. In this film, Sherlock Holmes only seems to have just figured out what Moriarty's been up to and Moriarty seems to be unaware of Sherlock Holmes and his attempts to thwart his scheme (at least in the beginning) even though Moriarty's been spying him since the last film and knows what he's all about. Even though the subtitle for this film is A Game of Shadows, it seems like the writers have overemphasized this idea in terms of the story because it makes the hero and villain clueless to what's really going on despite the audience knowing almost everything beforehand. If both Holmes and Moriarty had known of each other for a while and had been combatting each other whilst playing a so-called "shadowy game," the film could have been constantly filled with tension which would have added to the mystery. Also the last 30 seconds of this film just totally spoils what the movie was intending to be in the first place. It may also seem unfair to some to compare this film so much to The Dark Knight but since the last film was openly influenced by Batman Begins, it's only fair to recognize that this film has been influenced by The Dark Knight a lot and it wears it on its sleeve.
While those are some big complaints, there are a lot of things that are done so well in this movie that they almost make up for the big complaints that have been made. The same dead-on chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as the main duo is still alive and well in this film and it makes for a lot of great and hilarious moments and their cleverly written dialogue really adds to it. As much as there are certain problem when it comes to elements of the story, for the most part Kieran & Michele Mulroney (who wrote the supposedly brilliant Justice League movie that was never made) have come up with a very competent and engaging story and screenplay that delivers on almost everything you'd want in a Sherlock Holmes film and Guy Ritchie brings the same unique flair that made the last movie so damned cool, fun, and entertaining! Noomi Rapace's Madame Simza was a very welcome improvement over Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler as the femme fatale even though Irene Adler's story arc made for a suitable end given the tone of the film. Somehow Rachel McAdams didn't really seem like a real femme fatale even though she tried to be throughout the whole film last time around unlike Madame Simza who actually proved her worth of being a woman who could take care of herself. Maybe it was just a character thing and it had something to do with believability and logic because Irene Adler was this upper class looking lady from New Jersey whereas Madame Simza was gypsy in Europe who had to be independent in a world where men were still genuinely considered the dominant gender in Western society. Stephen Fry comes in as Mycroft, Sherlock Holmes' brother, and even though he's played up a lot for goofy laughs, he plays his moments rather well given that he doesn't have much to do besides being the comic relief.
While everyone does a great job especially Downey and Law, it's Jared Harris that impressed me most when it came to his portrayal of Moriarty and looking back at his career, he's been in a lot of films where he's impressed me but hasn't made such a big impression on me until now. While he's done well with Mad Men, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and a dozen other roles, he makes himself an acting force and force of nature as a character to be reckoned with as Moriarty! Even though it could've been more intriguing to see Brad Pitt play Moriarty like it was rumored to be at one time, Jared Harris plays Moriarty in such a way where you can't imagine anyone else besides him playing this role. Some may think that he looks too thuggish to play such an intellectual villain but people were initially worried about the choice to have Robert Downey Jr play Sherlock Holmes and yet his casting made perfect sense given the interpretation of the character in this new look at Holmes. The same goes with Harris, Moriarty looks to be the common, stuffy university professor one might find in the late 19th century but underneath his classy exterior is a sociopathic criminal mastermind and manipulator with an edge on the physical side of things and saying that, despite all of the things that have been said about the problems with the conflict between Holmes and Moriarty, the final showdown between them which pits each man against the other's intellect and physical skill as a fight is an ending unlike anything else that really shows why these two men are such perfect enemies for each other and it really defines their relationship beautifully.
The set pieces that are designed for the story are very clever and imaginative but it never lets the story get preposterous which can happen a lot with big budget action, adventure, mystery, or thriller stories and Guy Ritchie's use of slow motion is still competently used to explain the complexity of some of the things that are going on or are going to happen with these elaborate events of action and unlike a lot of big budget spectacle, there is a logic to the carnage and chaos that ensues to keep people enthralled in the mystery. The tone could have been very dark considering the events that occur here but the film plays too safe at times to make sure that people are still having a good time which I don't mind but what could have been a great sequel to Sherlock Holmes is just really good because of it. Ultimately this is sequel that is indeed worthy of its predecessor but sadly it never truly surpasses it. It's more comfortable in the world that it's playing in but at times, that's what's wrong with it. Maybe the biggest problem is the last 30 seconds and how it seems tacked on especially because the original story that this film was influenced by never had that ending and the fate of his various characters were never really clarified until years later when Arthur Conan Doyle took his "Great Hiatus" and came out of it to write about Holmes again. That's the most one could say about the nature of the ending without divulging into spoilers. Anyways, despite its flaws this movie makes for a competent and perfectly acceptable sequel to the last film and it's such a blast to watch that in the big picture, the flaws won't matter all that much. Hopefully Downey, Law, and Guy Ritchie will deliver whole hog on their next adventure especially if it might be their last!
Rating: High Matinée!