Robert Downey, Jr. coined one of the internet’s favourite phrases in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. In giving acting advice to another character, he uttered the immortal words: never go full retard. When an actor takes on the role of a mentally challenged person, they need to have some smartness to them for the audience to relate to their performance. To that rule, I’d like to add another, this one directed at Mr. Downey himself: never star in a sequel set to release two years after the previous feature. If your first movie comes out in 2008, don’t star in the sequel if it’s set to release in 2010. If the movie comes out in 2009, don’t star in the 2011 sequel. “But what evidence do you have that this is really a problem?” I say to myself because someone needs to ask the question.
Six words: Iron Man 2. Sherlock Holmes 2. In these two feature films, Mr. Downey, you have shown us that there is just not enough time in two years to properly develop a sequel to a movie when all you have to go on on day one of production is a protagonist. If you want to know how to build a franchise as massive and successful as the retroactively titled Dark Knight saga (just don’t wanna say Batman, do ya, Nolan), you need to tell Guy Ritchie to follow their example in more than just the obvious ways. You need to take a minimum of three years between releases. Take a year off to let the screenwriters work the magic a second time and deliver a script as good as the first one. At least as good. Because frankly, well…
It just wasn’t there this time. I wasn’t the world’s biggest fan of your interpretation of Sherlock Holmes the first time around, back in ’09, but even haters like me had to admit that it was fun, fast and pretty bright (if not as solution and logic driven as the source material). The fight scenes were stylish, the chase scenes were suspenseful, the characters and everyone’s general attitudes light and playful. You gave us a movie with a script so clever, it didn’t bother to mention a couple themes it had running through the feature. Not to mention, you gave us one of the most entertaining double-acts seen in recent years with the chemistry between Jude Law’s Dr. Watson and Downey Jr.’s Holmes. I was filled with hope as to the potential this series had to be a solid, funny, unashamedly physical version of the Sherlock Holmes story, assuming of course that the second movie was better than the first.
And for a long time, things were pointing that way. You had Stephen Fry portraying Mycroft Holmes. You were gonna tackle Moriarty, which, in retrospect, was probably a bit soon. Second feature film, don’t wanna cross that off just yet, you know? He’s far too iconic a villain to put into the second slot in a trilogy! It’d sort of be like putting the Joker in the second Batman movie. … Right. What I mean to say is it’d sort of be like replicating the result of Heath Ledger’s brief but affecting stint in the Dark Knight saga instead of the intentions. Nolan’s big thing was for putting the Joker on trial; the only reason he couldn’t do that was the untimely death of an underrated talent. Hence Joker’s exit from the series in Dark Knight. Dealing with Moriarty now is just shutting off any possibility of blaming him for future crimes in later installments, not to mention, you’ve rushed his movie into production and messed it up!
Game of Shadows holds up decently from its beginnings with Irene Adler’s cameo to Holmes’ and Watson’s argument about the stag party for Watson’s upcoming nuptials. It holds up well through the stag party through to the wedding, through to Watson on the train to his honeymoon. But after that, it becomes clear that somebody backstage just didn’t have enough energy to come up with enough stuff to fill between the setpieces. And it’s only exacerbated by the casting/direction of Moriarty (Jared Harris) which turns a character who should be playing dark foil to Holmes into just… some dude who happens to like, fund crime and stuff. Does he have any motivation to? Ennh. Does he want to watch the world burn? Menh. Does it provide a good living? Nowhere near as much as his lecturing gig does, apparently, given that he maintains that as a sustainable business on the side. He doesn’t have the sneering arrogance that you need from an intellectual villain that would throw Holmes’ plain knowledge into relief.
Combine that with the downright criminal underuse of Stephen Fry and Noomi Rapace as Mycroft Holmes and Sim (the gypsy woman “female lead”) and I’m really wondering what in this movie could have gone right. Mycroft is also meant to be a foil to Holmes. Smarter; lazier. Fatter, more in charge. Better station in life. And what we end up with is everything but the first point. His intelligence is nowhere near as obnoxiously ever-present as Holmes’, which downright makes no sense. And Noomi Rapace is a marvelous actress. One of the finest I’ve seen, based on one role. But lord help me if they didn’t just leave her high and dry with so few lines her role could’ve been filled by an extra for the same wage.
There’s not a lot obtrusively wrong with Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows. But it’s possible for a film to do so little right that you know that if they’d taken more time somewhere along the line to do something differently, it would’ve ended up spectacular instead of just a mediocre waste of time between birth and the grave. I’m going to be in line for the third one, but that’s because I’m a sucker. And if there’s one thing you should do that I say but don’t do, it’s not be a sucker. The only people who like suckers are executives in charge of greenlighting sequels with two year production windows. TWO STARS
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