Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows review

Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.
The game is afoot -- again!

On Friday, 16 December 2011, I picked up the registration for my new car and got it inspected. I also handed over the title to my old automobile. The next day, Janice and I met role-players Sara F. & Josh C. for lunch at Whole Foods at Legacy Place in Dedham, Massachusetts.

We then went to the Showcase Cinemas de Luxe to screen Sherlock Holmes [2]: A Game of Shadows with Sara & Josh’s friend “Viking.” We enjoyed the steampunk movie, which had even more action than its 2009 predecessor and was somewhat faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s detective stories.

Director Guy Ritchie is still fond of explosions, Gypsy music, and slow-motion fisticuffs. Actors Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. John Watson appear to be having a blast playing up their “bromance.” Downey Jr.’s comedic chameleon owes at least as much to Peter Sellers‘ manic Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther flicks as it does Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett’s sleuths.

Jared Harris, the son of the late Richard Harris and already a villain on Fringe, acquits himself well as that “veritable Napoleon of crime,” Dr. James Moriarty. As with the original serialized fiction, women are merely in supporting roles in Sherlock Holmes 2. Mrs. Mary Watson (Kelly Reilly), Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), and fortuneteller Madame Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace) are involved in Moriarty and Holmes’ chess game as attractive pawns.

Noted Sherlockian Stephen Fry does get an amusing turn as Holmes’ older (and smarter) brother Mycroft. In A Game of Shadows, Sherlock Holmes, Watson, and Mme. Simza race across Europe to investigate anarchist bombings and a profiteering scheme to plunge the continent into war. This plot is surprisingly faithful to “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” “The Final Problem,” and the historical facts of how the Victorian era eventually led to World War I or the so-called Great War.

I’m not sure that Conan Doyle would recognize his world in this latest cinematic adaptation, however, with its steampunky emphasis on grime, crime, and pyrotechnics over erudite detection. Still, it’s worth remembering that the late 19th century was an era of technological change to match our own, with electrical street lights, the horseless carriage, telegraphs, and machine guns all changing daily life.

Fans and practitioners of the steampunk subculture will no doubt find inspiration in A Game of Shadows, which includes swordplay, waltzes, and fights aboard a rushing train. Both Tim M.B.‘s GURPS “Arth” and my GURPS/D20 “Gaslight Grimoire” scenarios used similar elements, as do recent role-playing games such as Airship Pirates and the FATE 3e Kerberos Club.

More serious Holmesians (Janice and I have been to 221b Baker Street) may prefer the upcoming second series/season of the BBC/PBS Sherlock, coming soon. Despite its modern setting, I’ve also enjoyed the latter adaptation. Like other enduring British icons, such as King Arthur, Robin Hood, James Bond, and Doctor Who, the great detective can be interpreted in many ways.

Overall, I’d give Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which is rated PG-13 for violence and innuendo, a B+, three out of five stars, or 7.5 out of 10. The movie is good popcorn entertainment, and another sequel is reportedly in the works, even though its box-office performance could have been better.

We also saw promising trailers for the actioner Haywire and Christopher Nolan’s Batman finale The Dark Knight Rises, but even the previews for Marvel’s Avengers, sword-and-sandals sequel Wrath of the Titans, and Disney/Pixar’s animated fantasy Brave didn’t excite me the way those for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit [1]: An Unexpected Journey have. I look forward to returning to Middle Earth, and genre film fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming year!

2 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows review

  1. OK — I know to go in expecting fun and not perfection … I really enjoyed the first one, so this helps … just lower my expectations a bit, but I think I’ll enjoy it. Makes me wonder if a TV show would be in order…? Procedural, tons of source material, haven’t had a steampunky thing in a long while …


  2. Dave, I agree that a steampunk TV series would be a good idea, although as I mentioned, there’s already a good modern Sherlock on BBC/PBS, and modern supernatural shows (Grimm, Once Upon a Time, etc.) are popular right now. There are steampunk elements in Fringe, Sanctuary, and Warehouse 13, and the latter may get a 19th century spinoff.

    Maybe the subgenre’s literary and RPG popularity will eventually translate into a successful TV adaptation — for now, we’ll just have to rewatch the original Wild, Wild West, Q.E.D., The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Legend, and Jack of All Trades!


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