Sure, I’m picky about my Sherlock Holmes, but I don’t think you have to be a pretentious scholar of nineteenth-century literature to see that the new Holmes film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, is incredibly disappointing. Of course, there’s a lot to like. As always, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are fantastic actors. And, just like in the last film, I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved the soundtrack. This time, Hans Zimmer brought a wonderfully uncomfortable mixing of out-of-tune piano chords with gypsy-style klezmer music. Toss in some genuinely entertaining moments, including one of the best-executed Holmes versus Moriarty battles I can remember, and you’ve got, at the very least, the makings of a good movie.
Even so, this film falls short an awful lot. The problem is that it frequently misses cues that should be incredibly obvious in a Sherlock Holmes film. I get that Downey Jr.’s Sherlock is a more action-oriented one than the detective I remember from my youth. That’s fine; the fun of any public domain character is putting him or her in new situations, like the future or being a mouse. And of course, Holmes was always a competent boxer and fighter, with most fights simply occurring off-page. The problem is that this movie pairs that gung-ho action mentality with madcap zaniness rather than logic.
We didn’t need a five-minute scene of Sherlock Holmes riding a fat pony. This isn’t Adventure Time. Sherlock Holmes didn’t have to spend thirty minutes cross-dressing just so we could get awkward Holmes-Watson sexual tension. This isn’t The Big Bang Theory. When Holmes goes blow dart hunting in his bedroom, which he’d converted to a rainforest complete with a turkey, I couldn’t help but feel like that was time I’d have rather spent solving mysteries. Plus, the naturalist in me must point out that turkeys are native to neither the rainforest nor the British Isles, making its presence just another simply pointless element. But in all honesty, why should Holmes’ deduction that Moriarty is engaging in an international weapons-dealing scheme (in other words, his realization of the film’s plot) occur off-camera? When you walk in to see a Sherlock Holmes movie surely you expect to see some amount of deductive reasoning. Instead, we just get prediction. Now, I could be wrong (and please tell me if I am), but I can’t remember a single time Holmes looked for clues. I mean, Wolverine does the same amount of deduction in your average X-Men comic, and no one says he’s the world’s greatest detective.
The whole movie just isn’t sure of anything. So many characters seem incredibly extraneous: Stephen Fry’s Mycroft exists only for cheap and tacky laughs, Kelly Reily’s Mary Watson is so disposable she literally gets thrown off a bridge, and Noomi Rapace’s Sim really only shows up to give the gang a female character. I mean, she’s tasked with few things, and the most critical requires significant assistance on Watson’s part. And frankly, I can’t accept Moriarty as a stout, bearded ginger. Like all mysteries, the film makes you ask, Where are we going? Who can we trust? I found myself unsure if this one was asking those questions to build suspense or because the writers also didn’t know. A good mystery requires every single plot element to build up to something worthwhile, and though the ending of this movie was satisfying, most of the film just felt fluffy.
If you liked Downey Jr.’s first Holmes movie, you can certainly give this one a try. You probably won’t be disappointed. If you liked the books, think carefully. But ultimately, you’ll save yourself money and regret if you just queue up BBC’s infinitely-superior Sherlock miniseries on Netflix. Now that’s how to make a detective seem cool.