Sunday, July 1, 2012

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)


Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

The movie is based on the canonical short story The Final Problem.


As indicated in the first movie, Prof Moriarty (Jared Harris) is working in the shadows (pun intended) to initiate a war on a global scale. Dr Watson (Jude Law) has moved out of 221 B leaving Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) to his own devices. Holmes is on the trail of Moriarty, gathering all possible evidence.


Dr Watson’s impending marriage and the presence of a gypsy are 2 subplots incorporated into the story credited to Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney. The finale at Reichenbach Falls has been executed to perfection by Guy Ritchie and his crew.


Downey Jr and Jude Law continue their crowd pleasing and fun portrayals from the first movie. The same is true of the other returning cast members as well. The 3 main newcomers are Jared Harris, Stephen Fry and Noomi Rapace.


Jared Harris and Rachel McAdams as Prof Moriarty and Irene Adler
Jared Harris and Rachel McAdams as Prof Moriarty and Irene Adler

Jared Harris is mesmerizing as Prof Moriarty. His is a masterful performance that successfully sells the concept of an accomplished academic who also happens to be a criminal mastermind. Watching Harris’s performance sent me into raptures. This, my dear friends, is Prof Moriarty. The Moriarty who is every bit the intellectual equal of Sherlock, only far more devious (as rightly said by Adler in the previous movie). This is the Moriarty I had envisioned when reading The Final Problem and briefly in The Valley of Fear. A Moriarty who is subtle and ruthless.


Hats off, Mr. Harris. A truly Splendid performance!


Another great aspect of this movie is that, for the first time Moriarty is actually shown as a Professor in an academic environment. I have not seen this in the Granada adaptation or the Russian adaptation or for that matter in any other. In yet another nice nod to the canon, some of the characters in the movie refer to Prof Moriarty not by his name, but only as “He”. As Holmes spoke in The Valley of Fear about Moriarty – “No less! When any of that party talk about ‘He’ you know whom they mean. There is one predominant ‘He’ for all of them.”

Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Prof Moriarty with one of his students

Full credits to Warner Bros and Guy Ritchie for bringing Mr. Harris onboard and doing full justice to the character of Prof Moriarty!


Stephen Fry appears as Mycroft Holmes, the elder brother of Sherlock Holmes. As readers familiar with the canon will know, Sherlock and Mycroft indulge in a game of out-deducing each other in The Greek Interpreter where we are introduced to Mycroft. In a nice nod to the canon, we have Sherlock and Mycroft doing the same in the movie as well. 


However, unlike the canon Watson joins in as well, leading Mycroft to conclude that perhaps Watson is not as dim-witted as he is often made out to be. I thought this was a nice touch and a reference to the bumbling image of Watson as portrayed by Nigel Bruce in the Basil Rathbone movies. Fry makes an adequate Mycroft, though the physical differences between him and Downey Jr can be quite jarring at times.


Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes

Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Golden Tattoo movies) plays Madam Simza, a gypsy whose brother works for Moriarty. Rapace does her best with the role given to her.


Jude Law shares excellent chemistry with Downey Jr and this is one of the best things about these movies. The sequence at the gypsy camp is a fine example. 


Robert Downey Jr is an excellent actor and I am pretty sure, given the right material to work with, he can be anyone he wishes to be. In the first movie, I was not convinced about his performance due to his shenanigans with McAdams’s Adler. Thankfully, in the sequel Adler leaves the screen quite early. This leaves Downey Jr to portray Holmes in a significantly more canonical tone and he is electrifying as Sherlock in all the scenes he shares with Harris’s Moriarty.


The very first meeting between the rivals is nicely done. But the chess sequence at the end of the movie is truly out of this world. The sequence captures the essence of the rivalry between Sherlock and Moriarty – 2 geniuses at loggerheads with each other. The picturization of the ensuing fight scene is another gem as well. Ritchie shows the fight at a metaphysical level and elevates the scene from being just another routine climactic fight. Great job, Ritchie!

Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes looks like Joker "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Does he remind you of someone else....

Interestingly, Downey Jr’s makeup in the train sequence reminded me of The Joker. Coincidence? Considering that both the movie franchises are from Warner Bros, probably not.

I also liked the Wine Cellar scene where Holmes, Watson and Madam Simza meet a terrorist who makes bombs. The way Holmes calmly and masterfully deduced the hidden exit instantly reminded of the Canonical Holmes. This is Sherlock Holmes. A calm, cool thinking machine who has his emotions in check and goes about his business in a truly masterful and assertive way.


Guy Ritchie has done an amazing job, right from the casting choices to the action sequences. The action scenes that show Holmes planning his moves ahead are more inspired this time, as not all of them go as per Holmes's predictions. The escape sequence through the forest though dragged on considerably and could have used some editing. The pony scenes with Holmes also did not really tickle the funny bone.


Hans Zimmer has produced another outstanding soundtrack that enhances the movie’s tone. The soundtrack “The Romanian Wind” in particular, is exceptional. His music is the very soul of this movie franchise.


Not to be outdone, the other crew members have also made handsome contributions to deliver a classic rendition of Sherlock Holmes. The cinematography by Philippe Rousselot, editing by James Herbert, production design by Sarah Greenwood and costume design by Jenny Beavan deserve special mention.


Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Jared Harris as Prof Moriarty

This turned out to be a long review. I just loved this movie and would heartily recommend to readers who are familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon and would like to see the finest onscreen depiction of Prof Moriarty.

Click here to read all my posts about Sherlock Holmes.


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Image Source: Warner Bros. Pictures


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40 comments:

  1. Not a fan of this franchise or RDJ, but you're the second person to tell me what an excellent job they did with Moriarty. Good for them. =)

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    1. Thanks Charity for the comment. I respect your sentiments towards this movie franchise. Still, I would recommend that you watch this movie, if only to enjoy Jared's flawless portrayal of Moriarty. There is nothing uncanonical about it, trust me :)

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  2. I'm surprised you were so taken by this movie, since I didn't feel it was as successful as the first and I felt the bromance between Watson and Holmes was far more in your face this time around. I agree with what you say about Moriarty though. However I would maintain that the BBC Sherlock contains far more of the real Holmes

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    1. I agree that some parts of the movie did not work. Still the combination of Hans Zimmer's music, Jared Harris's Moriarty and Jude Law's Watson proved too hard to resist :)

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  3. Hmm. I agree somewhat with what is said. However I really enjoyed the movie - in the end, though, I am happy that Sherlock's triumph proved him to be the cleverer. As in the original story, the strong moral of justice triumphing over evil still remains, and Holmes wins once again. That, at least, is a satisfying conclusion.

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    1. Yes, the movie did a great job capturing the essence of the original story!

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  4. After my first really bad viewing of this movie, now that I have it at home, I will watch it again and see if I come to any of the same conclusions.
    Good review, and we'll see if we are on the same page.

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    1. Thanks! Looking forward to your thoughts on the movie :)

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  5. None of the current Sherlocks really do the source material proper justice so I think trying to compare them to Conan Doyle will always end in disatisfaction. I really enjoyed Game of Shadows, agree that Harris was fab and Downey was better this time around.Iit was a great action comedy loosely based on Sherlock Holmes. I also found Andrew Scott very irritating but I think that's as much to do with Moffat's 'look how clever I am' writing as much as the actor. In the end I love Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce yet Bruce is totally different to book Holmes. I think part of the fun of the film/TV Holmes is that thry're like different Doctor Whos, all highlighting different aspects of the great man.

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    1. "None of the current Sherlocks really do the source material proper justice so I think trying to compare them to Conan Doyle will always end in disatisfaction. " - Well said.

      "I also found Andrew Scott very irritating but I think that's as much to do with Moffat's 'look how clever I am' writing as much as the actor. " - Glad to know that there are like-minded Sherlockians :)

      I too love Rathbone's portrayal of Holmes. Have you watched Vasily Livanov or Douglas Wilmer or Peter Cushing as Holmes. They are as good as Rathbone, in my humble opinion.

      Thanks Gypsy King for stopping by :)

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  6. Great review, sir. Looks like you and I are much of the same mind about this movie and particularly about the portrayal of Moriarty.

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    1. Thanks Charles for the compliment. Always a pleasure to hear from like-minded Sherlockians :)

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  7. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this movie (I just finished re-watching it as I write this comment). I admit, that re-watching it, I did appreciate Moriarty more than I did initially, and his brilliance as a criminal mastermind, so to speak.

    Also, Moffat and Gatiss should take notes on Moran from this movie too. I thought his portrail was fairly good, too, in his few minutes of screen time.

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    1. I was blown away by Jared's portrayal the very first time!

      In my humble opinion, Gatiss and Moffat, should rather take notes on Irene Adler and Moriarty ;)

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    2. Oh, they definitely should've taken more notes on Irene Adler. I mean, seriously? A dominatrix!? THAT'S what they came up with for the modern Adler? *sigh*

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    3. Gatiss, Moffat and others probably wanted something that would be sensational and maximize the viewership. That's probably the reason they decided to make Irene a bisexual dominatrix. While they were at it, they decided to go for some male nudity from Sherlock as well :)

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  8. Excellent review. You know my feelings about Jared Harris as Moriarty. His performance was just not as powerful as I would of hoped. I did not want him to act deranged, just more screen presence. As for the rest, I concur. Especially pertaining to Irene Adler. It was a great movie, although I do feel the first one was better.

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  9. I enjoyed your most excellent review. I also felt "A Game of Shadows" was more true to Sherlock Holmes than the first movie and enjoyed it much more. However; I did enjoy Holmes pony ride, but was concerned for the pony! The endgame chess match was grand and the subsequent leap to death to end the diabolical Moriarity was as I had always imagined. I replaced my original volume, which I passed on to my great nephew, once again it's time I read Sherlock Holmes.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment! Coming from a Sherlockian, they are highly appreciated :)

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  10. Great review, I enjoyed it quite a bit, going to watch it again soon to see if I can warm up to it more.

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  11. Nice blog.....very cool. I Liked your review. Your appreciation of movies are cool. Good good stuff

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  12. i enjoy the robert downey, jr. holmes much better when i forget that he's trying to be sherlock holmes :/

    i agree with you about the bbc sherlock moriarty, but i do like that series otherwise. i think they've done an excellent job of modernizing it, which was my greatest concern when i first heard about that project.

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    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I like the Downey Jr movies, for nearly the same reason that you like the BBC series: a dynamic portrayal of Holmes while retaining the Victorian settings of the canon :)

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  13. Thanks for stopping by my blog and pointing me toward this very excellent review. I swear, our observations are nearly spot-on -- not just with regards to the Ritchie films, but with past Sherlock productions as well. And while I believe the BBC's "Sherlock" is fantastic, its version of Moriarty is far too boisterous and manic for my liking. Kudos for pointing that out!

    You're right, that final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty is worth the price of admission alone. I sat there in total awe while it played out. And overall, while I thought the first film was remarkably well done, perhaps no greater surprise came to me than how masterfully superb the sequel turned out. I was not expecting that at all -- honestly, I thought Guy Ritchie would over-extend himself a bit here. But, nope! I haven't had so much fun at the movies in a long while. Loved it!

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    1. You are welcome, David. Glad that we share the same thoughts about BBC Sherlock and A Game of Shadows!

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  14. Loved this one! It was really fun with a lot of great twists while still being much more sinister than the first.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog again - I appreciate your comments. :-)

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  15. I believe you have a strong case for your Moriarty. However, how much allowance do you give the differences between a 19th and 21st century character. I can see where the writers of the contemporary BBC version use Moriarty to personify the insanity of the world we live in. He definitely wouldn't fit in Doyle's world. I believe each version of the character is exactly where he should be.

    Thanks for dropping by Perpetual Chaos, and for the discussion!

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    1. Thanks Penny for the comment.

      Thankfully, the BBC version of Moriarty does not fit in Sir Doyle's canon. That would have lowered the quality of the canon (just as did for the BBC Series). A hero is only as good as the villain he gets. This is true for the canonical Holmes just as it is true for the Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy. The BBC Moriarty version on the other hand is more in the tone of the 1997 Batman and Robin's villains. Very campy, over the top and not subtle at all. Just my 2 cents though..

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  16. What I liked about the BBC's Moriarty was the WTF factor. He wasn't the subtle, evil mastermind that Doyle wrote about at all but interesting to watch. (This leads into a theory that Jim Moriarty isn't Professor Moriarty, but that's a different topic altogether.) While I loved the depiction of Moriarty in a scholarly setting, Moriarty here is somewhat boring. That makes all of his evil acts (poisoning Adler, the scene ant the Falls) more surprising and dastardly, but still not as dynamic.

    However, I have to admit that when you wrote "No over the top motioning and gesturing around and being unnecessarily nasty to people around," I instantly thought of RDJ's Sherlock Holmes instead of Cumberbatch's. Incredibly well written review!

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    1. Interesting perspective on the BBC version of Moriarty. I wish I could share your perspective, but unfortunately I find BBC Sherlock to be quite a mean-spirited take on the canon :(

      Thanks for the compliment, aki!

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  17. love this movie, love this review! thanks for showing it to me! :D i have to agree with on all accounts. although, frankly, i'm not sure which moriarty i would choose as my favorite. i'm interested to read more about what you have to say about the BBC Sherlock...

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    1. Thanks Stephanie. I would recommend the Russian series with Vasiy Livanov as Sherlock Holmes and Vitaly Solomin as Dr Watson. If you like the Holmes canon, you will love this series.

      Please click here to read my thoughts on the BBC series.

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  18. I must admit there were things in the BBC Sherlock series that I didn't like. For example, I think they went too far with the Dominatrix Irene Adler. I also have mixed feelings about the conflict of Sherlock and Mycroft. On top of this, the series sometimes leans a little too much towards unrealistic comedy.

    I give credit to the cinematography and camera work because it sometimes gives an atmosphere of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
    A modern Holmes can be enjoyable if it is done right, though. After all, Basil Rathbone's classic Holmes was in the 1940's

    If the Russian Holmes was on at the same time, I'd likely watch the Russian Holmes instead.

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    1. Good to know that there are people around who are not taken in by the superficial appeal of BBC Sherlock. That show is pure style over substance. In my humble opinion, the show is a very mean-spirited take on the Sherlock Holmes canon.

      I for one would never compare BBC Sherlock to the Basil Rathbone series. Rathbone was and will always be one of the classiest Holmes to ever grace the screen.

      The Russian adaptation of Holmes is very canonical and will appeal to anyone who loves the Canon.

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  19. Nice review although I do not know Sherlock that well.

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    1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a superb writer and his Sherlock Holmes stories are among the best in the mystery genre. I would recommend that you read them!

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