Director Guy Ritchie's version of the great fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, is first and foremost an action hero. Ritchie's 'Sherlock Holmes' movies aren't anything like the new BBC show, 'Sherlock,' where Holmes usually sticks to observing rather than fighting. That's not to say this Holmes, played superbly by Robert Downey, Jr., is any slouch when it comes to figuring out complicated dastardly deeds, but he is a Holmes for a newer generation of movie goers who are used to frantic, helter-skelter action instead of methodical pacing.
Robert Downey, Jr. picks up right where he left off with Sherlock, maybe even making him slightly more manic this time around. Sherlock isn't dealing with the situation at hand very well. John Watson (Jude Law) is finally getting married, and Sherlock doesn't like it one bit. He has a deep love for his friend, one that he'd never admit, so he can't really get over the fact that his one and only true friend is leaving him. For a woman!
Part of the fun of 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' is the coy way it plays with the relationship between Holmes and Watson. These two men are oddly close and Holmes usually casts Watson's new bride out of the picture whenever he finds the time.
The first 'Sherlock Holmes' movie from Guy Ritchie centered around a one-off villain named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). The presence of one James Moriarty (Jared Harris) was only hinted at in that movie. Here the rivalry is front and center, and the two foes whose conflict has spanned the test of time, find themselves once again facing off against each other, both of them keenly aware of the other's intellect. Moriarty is a dangerous sociopath, but so is Holmes. The only difference is Moriarty doesn't mind if he kills people to get what he wants, Holmes isn't homicidal.
Moriarty has pieced together an elaborate string of maneuvers and power plays that have gained him untold access and fortune. Although, he still wants more. His arrogance is his weakness, but he's so strong in many of his other areas of expertise you sometimes wonder if his hubris will ever get big enough to crumble in on itself.
Much like the first 'Sherlock Holmes,' this one is just as fast-paced and just as action-packed. Even the flashbacks, as Holmes works problems out in his mind at lightning-fast speed, are edited in a semi-nauseating way that will remind you of the cut scenes from Ritchie's 'Snatch' (complete with sound effects for camera movements).
Ritchie's style grated somewhat on me during the first movie and it still manages to do that here. The fight scenes, while nicely choreographed, are edited like every other modern action movie. There are nearly incoherent bursts of flailing limbs crashing into each other as Holmes takes on one attacker after another. I think that since the fight was already shown in slow-mo inside Holmes' mind that Ritchie doesn't feel the need for us to watch the entire thing again in regular motion. Instead we get a rapid-fire succession of action-y shots.
However, like the first movie, this one is carried solely on the back of Downey's charisma as a manic sociopath who may or may not be going completely delusional. He delivers his lines as fast as Ritchie delivers the action. Holmes' mood in this movie seems much more agitated, most likely due to his best friend getting married and leaving him. Downey is a treat to watch. There are certain things he must retain to make it a believable Sherlock Holmes, but he adds something else to the part that makes him so watchable. He's made the character his own.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Warner Bros. release that comes in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. It also comes with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. It comes packaged in a standard two-disc-hub Blu-ray case. The Blu-ray is a 50GB disc. This release comes with a slipcover that has the same artwork as the case. It's a region free release.
'Game of Shadows' indeed. This is a very shadowy video presentation that features great detail even though much of the movie is spent lurking in dark places. Warner has offered a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that looks, well, perfect.
This is a demo-quality transfer through and through. When you can have a movie as dark as this, honestly, I'm pretty sure that there are only a handful of well-lit scenes (the wedding being one of them), the rest of the scenes play out in darkened clubs, alleyways, balconies, parties, and forests. This is a very dark movie with a color palette dominated by grays and blacks. It could've easily been a movie fraught with crushing and banding, but it isn't. Blacks are some of the inkiest you'll ever see on this format. Shadows are perfectly delineated. Just check out the close-ups during the scene where Holmes and Watson sneak into the weapons factory. Even though it's under thick darkness, shadows still accentuate facial features like lines, pores, and stubble. These are easy features to lose in a really dark film, but they aren't lost here. The same holds for textures as well. The woven texture of Watson's suits stand out no matter what lighting situation the guys find themselves in.
The rest of the film follows suit. The few well-lit scenes sparkle with clarity. Skin tones appear to be genuinely natural. This is just a great presentation all around. There wasn't one instance of source noise, not one instance of banding or aliasing that I saw. This is one of the best looking Blu-rays to come out this year.
The movie's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation is just as impressive as the video. Seriously, this is a heavy, thundering audio mix that will grab your eardrums. Booming bass rolls through the soundtrack during many of the movie's intense scenes. As a towering structure comes crashing down in a weapons factory you'll notice the entire room shake like something is falling down on your house.
Sound effects are used with great frequency, especially during the slow-mo action scenes and Holmes' flashback scenes. Whenever Ritchie's signature "wham, bam," sound effects take over they are localized perfectly in the speakers that they need to be in. The slow-motion scene with Watson, Holmes, and others running away from the weapons factory, being fired upon, features some wonderful directionality. Bullets whiz by, the camera stops and watches a bullet splinter a tree trunk as the sound is produced with perfect clarity in the front channels. Explosions happen in front of, to the side of, and behind the characters, each time with the heft of the sound coming from the necessary place in the soundfield.
Like the video the audio will easily impress. Ritchie's soundtracks have always been chock full of special sound effects and there's no difference here. The entire track, from front to rear, is alive with action and doesn't stop until the credits have finished rolling.
Is the second better than the first? I'd rate them somewhere in the same ballpark. Maybe 'A Game of Shadows' is a tad better, simply because Holmes is now battling his famous nemesis instead of someone else. Downey's presence is really the reason to get this movie though. He's created his own quirky version of Sherlock Holmes and it really works. He's as fun to watch in these films as he is in the 'Iron Man ' movies and in 'The Avengers.' The audio and video are simply astounding. One wishes that the special features would've been more extensive and exhaustive, but oh well. This one still comes recommended.