With the Help of Holmesavision: ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’

“I See Everything. That is My Curse.”

— Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

As Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) dances with a lovely woman who has shared his latest adventure (Noomi Rapace), he confesses that “I see everything. That is my curse.” Audiences who watch the Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet set of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows may feel the same way. The movie itself asks viewers’ indulgence in overlooking a few weaknesses in plot, such as a happy ending that defies logic and reduces Holmes to a sight gag—again—but the disc set invites fans to scrutinize the minutiae of making the movie and seeing how each character, scene, and special effect was conceptualized and filmed. The extra features permit those at home to “see everything” in much closer detail than audiences could in a theater, which is both a curse (to deconstruct the film and maybe find it lacking in some areas) and a blessing (to understand the rationale for the director’s and actors’ choices).

Perhaps the just-released disc set really is best suited for yet a fourth target audience: those who care as much about the way a film is made as the way the finished product looks on screen. Although A Game of Shadows does little to elevate the popular image of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes as anything more than his usual brilliance and fast thinking self, the film also provides two hours of adventure and, with the timing of the disc set’s release, becomes a very good summer movie to watch in the cool of one’s living room when it’s too hot to be outside.

In this sequel to Sherlock Holmes (2009), director Guy Ritchie is reunited with Downey, Jr. and Jude Law (John Watson). Although the many behind-the-scene extras explain how the trio strove to make the sequel not only better than the original, but to enhance character development and special effects, especially in action sequences, the result on screen is that A Game of Shadows shares the strengths of the original while further distancing Holmes from Doyle’s stories and more recent adaptations (most notably, the BBC’s television series Sherlock).

Interestingly, both the latest Ritchie film and the most recent Sherlock episode tackle Doyle’s “The Final Problem”, which leads the Great Detective to his greatest fall. Ritchie eventually leads Holmes, Watson, and the formidable Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) to Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls, where Doyle’s readers know what to expect. Ritchie, however, manages to circumvent the franchise’s problem of killing off the possibility of a third installment and ends this sequel with a wink and a nod toward the future. Although in the last scene Holmes may question whether he has come to the end of his adventures with Watson, audiences anticipate that, in a year or two, the dynamic duo will be back on the big screen again.

The plot moves very quickly, enhanced by what Ritchie calls “Holmesavision”—the slow-motion details Holmes envisions mentally before taking down his opponents physically with fast-motion martial arts moves. (The “Holmesavision” process is illustrated in equally great detail in a special features segment.) Holmes pulls together a web of clues from murders and corporate takeovers to determine that Professor Moriarty is behind a scheme, basically to take over the world, by manipulating nations into a war from which he would profit immensely. Holmes understands, as he explains to Watson, that he is the only one who can “prevent the collapse of Western civilization.” And off the pair go on a European tour from France to Switzerland. “It’s our last adventure, Watson,” Holmes tells his best friend. “I intend to make the most of it.”

So does Ritchie, filling the screen with chases and explosions, as well as a few quieter, bromance-solidifying moments between Holmes and Watson. By now the franchise’s followers know to expect plenty of innuendo between the pair, and A Game of Shadows doesn’t disappoint fans looking for evidence of Holmes expressing his feelings just as much as Watson represses them. Whether audiences believe that the two have time away from attempted assassinations and malevolent Moriarty to do more than bicker and gaze at each other is irrelevant. This adaptation’s Holmes and Watson—like the actors who portray them—share excellent chemistry and seem to be having a very good time once they are away from London and Watson’s wife (whom Holmes quite conveniently disposes of on her honeymoon).

Anyone looking to A Game of Shadows for escapist adventure, plenty of intriguingly filmed action, and buddies who play well off each other will certainly enjoy the movie and want to replay it in the Blu-ray disc’s “Maximum Movie Mode”, which links insider insights to scenes. Narrated by Downey, Jr., these segments include a variety of interactive features, including picture-in-picture illustrations of how the scene was made, the actor’s commentary about the whys and hows of shooting the scene and its implications for characters, and links to photo galleries or storyboards.

Although the DVD includes only a few Focus Points (highlighting, for example, the Holmes-Watson relationship and Moriarty’s master plan), the Blu-ray disc includes a wider array of three- to seven-minute segments that, in addition to the aforementioned points, introduce Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry), shooting locations, and supporting cast members. The special features and options—such as a free movie app that can be downloaded and synchronized with the Blu-ray disc to provide even more interactive content—offer hours of “play” time in which to explore the movie and the world of Sherlock Holmes. The amount of supplementary material is a strength of the disc set, even if “the making of” information begins to overshadow the movie itself.

A cinematic downside of this sequel is its limited use of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who only briefly banters with Holmes before facing down Moriarty. However, the bigger issue for Sherlock Holmes fans—not simply fans of Downey’s Sherlock Holmes—is the reduction of this iconic character to the role of action hero. Brawn instead of brains and action instead of genius analysis speed the film. Explosions and crashing debris are better visualized on screen than deductions. Although Moriarty and Holmes play mind games, and chess becomes a convenient metaphor for their high-stakes thought processes, they also physically grapple.

Moriarty even has his own “Moriarty-vision” effect. Granted, showing how Holmes thinks is a challenge for any filmmaker, but the process of zooming in on details and then turning thought into a series of fight moves removes Holmes from his role as a great thinker relying on powers of deduction and installs him in the more popular movie realm of a superheroe. Perhaps to humble the man with whom the fate of the world rests, A Game of Shadows also makes Holmes the butt of sight gags, even if they are of his own making. Gratuitous nudity and cross-dressing from the Holmes brothers does little to indicate their brilliance. Whether standing out by riding a manically trotting pony or dressing to blend in with the furniture, Sherlock Holmes sometimes finds the last laugh being directed at him—and that is a direction long-time fans of Holmes the icon may not want to turn their gaze.

Those not so worried about the path this adaptation’s Holmes is taking should enjoy going along for the ride—by carriage, automobile, pony, or train—on another boisterous adventure. Without a shadow of a doubt, this Game of Shadows showcases the adventures of Downey, Jr. and Law as they thoroughly enjoy playing two of the greatest characters of all time.

RATING 6 / 10