Over the course of the rest of the movie, Watson is sprinting, sliding, jumping, dancing, fighting, tackling.
Is he fucking hurt or isn't he?
Director: Guy Ritchie
Sherlock Holmes: Robert Downey Jr.
Dr. Watson: Jude Law
Watson's wife, whom I wanted to see more of: Kelly Reilly
The gypsy that doesn't really do anything: Noomi Rapace
Moriarty: Jared Harris
Moriarty's killer: Paul Anderson
Plays the character who confirms the homoeroticism by calling Holmes "Shirley": Stephen Fry
Acts better in her few minutes in this movie than in the entirety of the previous film: Rachel McAdams
Keeps appearing in small roles: Eddie Marsan
Detail without explanation creates mystery. If, after school, on the walk home (this takes place in a city where the kids walk to school), a kid is being chased by a bully and the bully catches the kid, knocks him to the ground, and is about to punch the kid right in the face (because the bully doesn't know how to tie his shoes so always makes this kid tie his shows in order to cover up his own inadequacy, and today the kid refused to tie the bully's shoes and the bully was laughed at), and a girl stops the bully, she grabs his arm, pushes him over, takes the hand of the kid and they run together to a side street, the bully hot on their heels, so the girl tells the kid to make it home and she stops in the side street to face the bully and the camera shows the face of the kid who has stopped running, is looking back at her, conflicted about whether he should leave the girl or not, and the girl, not looking at him, yells "GET GOING" and the kid goes, leaving her, and the camera goes with him, leaving her as well. Which means we've left her. We're left to wonder, who was that girl?
This is plot point mystery. We assume that we'll revisit the girl and find out more about her. We'll explore her character.
I want you to think about a map. When a detail first emerges in a film (the same applies to fiction stories), it's like a place appearing on the map. This can be a point of interest, or a hamlet, village, town, city. When a movie is over, you have a "world". The question is how much of this world does the movie (or novel/story) explore?
I think most blockbuster-style movies are like going on a bus tour. You sit in the bus and are taken around to different places and sights, but you don't get off the bus. You're not allowed to go at your own pace. You get some exposition, but you're not really spending any time at these places. See Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Or A Game of Shadows.
We get all sorts of details about the world and characters.
Holmes can fight (we knew this in the first film). But we get zero backstory about his training.
And you may be thinking, why does it matter if we get backstory about his fighting history?
Touche. But. Why don't we get ANY backstory about Holmes, ever?
The closest thing to giving him backstory is/was Rachel McAdams's character and Watson. So while we see the "highlights" of Holmes--his vision/"curse", his quirky personality and unorthodox methods, his esoteric and varied knowledge--we never learn about him.
Nor do we get backstory details on Watson. Or Moriarty. Or Sherlock's brother. The characters we learn the most of are Rapace's gypsy and her brother (was a rebel, draws, was without a definitive purpose but has found one), and Paul Anderson's deadly henchman .
We've spent two movies with Holmes and Watson and we know less about them combined than we do about, say, Jeff Bridges's character in Crazy Heart.
But back to details.
-A poison dart killed the guy who received the bomb but was saved by Holmes (only to die a second later). What kind of poison? How was the dart shot? Who killed him? (we find out two of three of these details).
-Everyone leaves the restaurant when Moriarty taps on his glass. Why? Hypnosis? Were they all plants? How's he have that much power? (We never find out the answer to this). McAdam's collapses. Is she dead? (We get the answer to this)
-Watson has a limp and cane. Why? (If this is due to the first movie, I can't remember). Will it affect him? (NO).
-Holmes is living in a jungle environment. Why? (He gives some explanation, but it has no purpose in the plot).
-Holmes has created a camouflage suit. Why? (It only comes back at the end, for a laugh).
-Holmes is drinking formaldehyde. Why? (Doesn't impact the story).
-Watson is getting married. When? (He gets married 10 minutes later).
-Watson has friends from different social circles. Whom? (We never meet them).
-There are Cossack assassins. We see one. But they don't have any further point in the story.
-We meet Rapace. Who is she? What will she do? (We get some backstory, and she helps, but she's more a device than a character since after her first two scenes she barely has lines and is only there to help point out who her brother is.)
-Rapace's brother, Rene, sent her drawings. Why? (One drawing proves helpful, but that's the only purpose).
-Rene says he's found his purpose. What is it? (Major plot point).
-Watson gets married. Will it be okay? (There's one scene where Reilly is in danger, but she's then removed from the plot and safely protected, thus nipping that source of tension; we never really see her and Watson interact).
-Holmes meets with Moriarty. Sees a chalkboard. Sees a book. Sees a dead plant. Are these things important? (All three prove relevant).
-Moriarty basically says he's going after Watson and his wife. What will he do?? (And the very next scene involves this attack, so the tension is created and released immediately).
-We see a chess board. WILL THEY ACTUALLY USE THE CLICHE CHESS GAME METAPHOR??? (.....yes....)
-Moriarty gives Holmes McAdam's kerchief. IS SHE DEAD? (She's dead.)
-Watson and his wife are attacked by Moriarty's men. Who are the men? Where did Moriarty get them from? How did he know where Watson was going? How did he know when Watson was leaving? If Holmes new about the attack, why didn't he stop the men before they boarded the train? Does Moriarty have some sort of secret army at his disposal? (No answers).
-Holmes and Watson find Rapace's gypsies. Who are these gypsies? Will they prove important? (We meet one. And Rapace and this one talk with Holmes and Watson. They then just help advance the plot: they know where to go next, they provide horses later and know a path to get around a border closing, then they help shoot people and get shot at, then they're no longer involved).
-They meet the bomb makers where Rapace thought her brother might be. Who is this bomb maker? What will he do? (He shoots himself in the head, after explaining death is the only way to protect his family (who Moriarty has hostage))
-Moriarty runs the bomb makers. He's planning something. Where? When? (We find out where immediately, and the bombing is the next scene).
I don't want to keep doing this.
So, going back to the map. A movie like Young Adult takes us into the City of Mavis Geary. The movie fleshes out Mavis's character and life. We hear about Buddy and Buddy appears. Buddy and Mavis have a conversation that's just a conversation but has implication because we know Mavis wants to get back with Buddy so there's the tension of "will she be able to win him back?" This questions "will she" is drawn out for most of the movie, except it gathers momentum and texture. But what's also gaining momentum and texture is Mavis's character. We spend an hour and a half walking the city, seeing the various sights, the districts, what makes Mavis tick. We spend time with the supporting characters as well. In a short film, we do a lot of sight seeing.
The tension between Moriarty and Holmes doesn't really develop (unless you count the chess match as "development"). We learn more about Moriarty's plan, but not so much about him. He's static. As is Holmes. There's no change. No growth. No nuance. Which is fine. But it's systemic. The entire movie is like this. No one in the movie is changing or growing. The only one with the potential for change is Watson. Will he be able to settle down with his wife? (This isn't addressed). The film has everything to do with bursts of viewer tension, and does zero character exploring outside of what's necessary to push the plot forward.
Sherlock Holmes, as a character, is famous for solving mysteries. Obviously. So A Game of Shadows sets up a mystery: Professor Moriarty has an evil plot. What is it? That's the overarching mystery.
Can Holmes stop it? That's the main source of tension.
There are two major sub-mysteries: what is Rene's role? who is the dude killing everyone?
And there are two major sub-tensions: Holmes dealing with Watson's marriage; the battle of wits between Holmes and Moriarty.
Every other tension is short-term. A problem arises and then it's solved. And these short-term problems are what drive the plot of the movie forward.
Let's look at our two sub-mysteries.
Sub-mystery 1: "What is Rene's role?"
We find out Rene is going to kill an ambassador, that's his role. The mystery dissolves to tension: Rene's going to kill an ambassador, can they stop him?!?! We don't stew in this tension. The assassination attempt happens within five minutes.
Sub-mystery 2: "Who is the dude killing everyone?"
Answering that question didn't affect the plot. At all. Knowing his name only confirmed for us that he had a military background as an elite operative, so was qualified to kill people super-stealth. But we find this out after he's killed a ton of people super-stealth. He's already proven himself capable. So the reveal is interesting, but ultimately serves no purpose. It has no impact on the plot. It doesn't develop into tension (since we already knew he was dangerous). When the guy disappears, he's just gone. Which means "who is the dude killing everyone?" leads to "what happened to the dude who was killing everyone?"
And the two sub-tensions.
1. Holmes dealing with Watson's marriage.
Holmes freaks out about Watson's marriage and acts out, jealously, during the homoerotic train ride. What Ritchie has done by having Holmes alleviate the film's plot of Watson's wife as she and Watson are on their way to their honeymoon is make the entire movie a sort of honeymoon for Holmes and Watson. But there's no resolution to the tension. Holmes and Watson never declare love or undying friendship. If Holmes had died there would be resolution, but he hasn't died. And while he promised Watson he would leave him alone after this "case", who knows what Holmes will do? The movie ends with Holmes in Watson's office. So the first sub-tension turns into mystery. This is not satisfying.
2. The battle of wits.
The climax is four-fold. First, we have the cliche chess match. Second, we have Team Sherlock defusing Team Moriarty's assassination attempt. Third, we have the Genius Vision fight where Moriarty demonstrates the same ability to forecast a fight that we've seen Holmes use in both movies. And fourth, we have the actual "fight". The tension has gone from Macro (the plot to start a World War) to Micro (a chess game and fist fight). The micro version transforms from mental (chess game) to physical (fist fight). Holmes wins. This is satisfying.
Which brings us to the main source of mystery and the main source of tension.
Both the over-arching mystery--what is the plot? (to start a war and earn outrageous profits)--and tension--can Holmes stop the plot?--are satisfied. Which makes the plot logically sound.
But for a movie that's about solving a mystery. We're still left with a lot of mysteries. Who is Holmes? Who is Watson? What happens to Rapace? What happens to the guy that was killing everyone? Did the ambassadors at the summit ever realize that Rene was an impostor and not the ambassador he was impersonating (since he had had facial reconfiguration)? Will Watson and his wife go on their honeymoon (since Watson knows Holmes is alive, he may cancel the plans)? And why, if he has a limp and needs a cane, can Watson still sprint, jump, tackle, dance and do it all better than most people who aren't mildly handicapped?
What's my point?
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a shallow movie. It's a scenic bus tour of NYC. You may love the tour and think it's awesome because you avoid walking all over and you get to see a lot of cool things and you get some really good information. But if you want more than that, like to get a tactile sense of NYC, or to visit a nearby city you've seen photos of, or a small town a couple hours away that the guidebook describes as having an amazing brewery, or one of the landmarks that's on the map and the name is strange, alluring, something like "Who the Fuck is Sherlock Holmes Canyon": you're out of luck.
Did I Like It:
Eh. I didn't dislike it. But I wouldn't want to watch it again, I don't think. If the Holmes in the first movie was a pyramid, in this movie he's a sphere. There's a loss of facets. A loss of faces. Of dimension. He's on a mission, but it renders him one-dimensional. Killing his female love interest also didn't help. And Rapace does not replace McAdams.
I didn't find the characters or the plot all that compelling. It's all competent. But is it anything special?
It has more action and is less stop-and-go than the first movie. But I like the first movie better? I feel the first movie had more build up. Mark Strong's "magical powers" developed throughout the movie. And each time he "used" them, it was another mystery for Holmes to explain. There weren't really any mysteries for Holmes to explain in this movie. So he's no longer in the capacity of sleuth. Which is kind of interesting, because we see how he uses his powers in a more active plot. It's active problem-solving rather than reflective. But I think the film sacrificed depth.
I don't think I laughed?
Oh. And I don't like the fact that both movies had a supporting Henchman. The first film had the big dude (Robert Maillet). And this movie has Paul Anderson. One was a brawler, the other discreet. So there's a difference. But it's the same idea. Also, the final fights both take place at elevation. And both involve the villain falling. Mark Strong had a noose around his neck when he fell. Moriarty didn't.
So. I think it's an okay sequel. But...meh.
What It's Good For:
-Robert Downy Jr.
-it's a linear movie
-Guy Ritchie loves slo-mo--in other words, if you don't like his style, you may not like this movie
-you can nitpick a lot of the details
-it's a shallow movie
-Holmes is very much a crazy person
% Character / % Actor personality
Fry: I don't care
Downey: Iron Man; Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Fry: V for Vendetta