The Robert Downey Jr. movie Sherlock Holmes, in many ways, broke new ground. It ticked off a lot of diehardHolmes fans and pleased others all at once, and for the same reasons. Holmes was rude, arrogant, and engaged in a lot of physical violence; this upset those who liked the Victorian trappings of the original stories, and pleased those who had wondered what it might be like to see Sherlock's side of things, rather than the more sanitized version written by Dr. Watson.
As you might guess, I fell into the latter camp. I enjoy looking at character motivation and personality, and it was fairly obvious to me that Holmes was a high-functioning sociopath whose attitudes were constantly explained and excused by “Dr. Watson's” writings. Doyle didn't describe it completely correctly, but then alienists (the Victorian-era term for criminal and/or extreme psychology) were still working out the details in his day. I not only found Downey's interpretation correct, but also highly entertaining.
Other details also served to endear the movie and its interpretation to me (not the least of them being a Watson that actually shows off being a military man rather than a dumpy city doctor), but just as my delight focuses on Holmes, most of the disapproval from other Holmes fans comes from the same issue. That isn't the only aspect, however; the movie's high focus on action was a problem that came up a lot in my discussions with others. While I could certainly see that issue for others, I usually paid it no mind. For me, it had been skillfully wrapped around everything I liked about a good Sherlock Holmes story, and complemented it rather than detracted from it.
Not so with A Game of Shadows.
Don't get me wrong. I liked the movie. It was entertaining. But while it starred Holmes, it was not a good Sherlock Holmes story. There wasn't even a mystery plot. Oh, they put in the trappings of a mystery, with hidden clues leading to bigger questions and wrapping it up at the conclusion with an honestly satisfying confrontation with Moriarty; but it wasn't a mystery story.
It felt more like a James Bond story. More cerebral than your usual Bond, mind you, but not the sort of cerebral that you'd expect from Sherlock Holmes. For that matter, I literally started falling asleep in the theater during the slow-motion, bullet-time run through the forest as Holmes and his allies attempted to escape from Moriarty's goons. (In the movie's defense, of course, I was already tired, and the theater's leather seats are VERY comfy. However, the urge to sleep was over once people started talking again.) The plot advanced mainly through action, unlike the first film; when clues came up, they often seemed far-fetched and unnecessary . . . such as a bomb to hide a shooting murder when the bomb would have done the job by itself.
I enjoyed the movie, but I would have enjoyed it more had I known that I should just relax and enjoy the action and characters and stop looking for the mystery. The first trailer I saw for the movie made me suspect that it had been written to take Robert Downey Jr.'s unique brand of weirdness and comedy; that held up somewhat during the actual movie, but it wasn't as bad as what I had feared. I did enjoy the characters, with Downey and Law meshing even better this time around; while Law moved Watson back to being a three-dimensional character in the first film, he distinguished Watson as much more than simply Holmes' sidekick in the sequel. Holmes' “calculating the coming fight” moments (four in all) were very well-done, and different each time. One even did what I had expected in the original movie (something occurred that Holmes didn't anticipate), while the final such moment was possibly the best of both movies in terms of the characters involved.
The rest of the casting was excellent as well. Jared Harris was surprisingly appropriate as Moriarty, just for one. It's a role hard to play as it is, simply because of the lack of original source material. (For such an iconic character, Moriarty shows up in a mere two Holmes stories.) Harris didn't play the role as insane, maniacal, or even as overtly eccentric, but still came off as creepy as well as Holmes' intellectual equal.
Rachel McAdams did even better as Irene Adler this time around; it's almost criminal how little screen time she got. She displayed a range of emotions so quickly and so well that it really left an impression on me, which contributed greatly to suddenly becoming a sympathetic character. In the previous film, she was more like the Holmes version of Yo-Saff-Bridge from Firefly. (Oh, and to my diehard Holmes-fan friends: I basically pretend that Irene is a different character who happens to have the same name as the Irene Adler from the original stories.)
Stephen Fry as Mycroft worked wonderfully as well. While Mark Gatiss' interpretation (from the BBC seriesSherlock) is still my favorite Mycroft, Fry's performance was delightfully eccentric. For that matter, the way Downey and Fry play off each other makes this the only Holmes/Mycroft performance I've ever seen where I could really believe they were brothers -- despite the fact that, while Fry fits the description of Mycroft from the original stories to an almost scary degree, he and Downey look NOTHING like each other.
Kelly Reilly did a masterful job as the new Mrs. Mary Watson, far less than the screen time she deserved. She did so well, in fact, that I could be convinced that she could be a third member of the Holmes partnership without destroying the rapport between either Holmes and Watson or their actors. Granted, it would have to be handled delicately, and involve a few hoops to avoid destroying the character (no pun intended) of the source material; but that also assumes that they'll return to the source material with the next film.
Noomi Rapace, playing a gypsy named Madame Simza, was the weakest of these, but I think this was more because of the character. She didn't seem to have a lot of room to grow and change throughout the film, and the few moments where she had a chance to really act stood out. That character was far too confining for any actress to really spread her wings.
Overall, the movie is worth seeing if you haven't, and probably not worth seeing again if you have. It's entertaining and diverting, but not a work of cinematic art. There's a lot of promise in the actors for another sequel, but I hope the writers learn from their mistakes in this film so that we can have a true Sherlock Holmes adventure the third time around