In many ways, director Guy Ritchie is the best and worst director to handle the time-honored lore of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson. From the beginning, this undertaking by Ritchie has had the feel of a trilogy, and while a third film is not yet in the works, certain clues — the greatest of which being box-office success — have hinted at a third film eventually coming. In the first film, audiences saw that Ritchie’s style lends itself well to a slightly warped Sherlock-inhabited world. It was more about boxing gloves than magnifying glasses, an altogether satisfying experience for those more interested in explosions than contemplation.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

At Quality 16 and Rave
Warner Bros. Pictures

Holmes had become a sort of Indiana Jones-type character. Instead of an archeologist doing less archeological work and much more Nazi-fighting, audiences were given a detective who does less investigation and much more Mark Strong (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) punching. “Game of Shadows,” the second installment, attempts to maintain this same formula, but with decidedly less successful results.

Like the first, “Shadows” relies heavily on Ritchie’s fascination with slow-motion fighting, and while some may find the technique overdone, it does allow for audiences to clearly view what is happening. It’s certainly a better option than the Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) style of dark and blurry close-up combat, and while one might think the effect would wear thin, people still seem to enjoy the “mind-fighting” of Holmes in which he plays out the entire fight in his head beforehand, planning each strike carefully.

Holmes himself is strangely portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man 2”). The first time around, Holmes was that kind of eccentric genius Downey plays so well: occasionally wild, but ultimately precise and diligent. Now though, Holmes seems to have gone off his rocker. Perhaps it’s the fear of losing Watson to the demands of his upcoming marriage, but something has pushed this Holmes from gentleman savant to borderline madman. The cause of Holmes’s insanity may also lie in the words he says near the end of the film: “I see everything, that is my curse.” For Holmes, perhaps this knowledge is the cause of his psychosis, like the madness of being the only sane patient in an asylum. Ritchie doesn’t develop this concept further, but it’s interesting to consider and provides this Holmes with something greater than Downey’s charm.

Holmes is juxtaposed well between the exasperated but loving Dr. Watson (Jude Law, “Hugo”) and the sociopathic but brilliant Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, “The Ward”). Ritchie’s decision to have his Watson be a stabilizing force for Holmes (like Jackie Chan to Chris Tucker in “Rush Hour”) as opposed to a foil for Holmes’s explanations was a wise one. This Watson is a character all his own, creating a sort of crime-solving-duo dynamic enjoyable to watch.

Moriarty is a Hannibal Lecter-like villain and his scenes with Holmes are the highlights of the film. One moment in particular features Moriarty madly screaming as Holmes remains stoic. This shows the difference in their geniuses, but aside from this short portrait, Holmes never truly displays that calm again. It would serve Ritchie well to bring out this side of Holmes more often, to create a more monk-like hero.

A common theme in “Shadows” is the concept of muddying the waters to catch a fish. Ritchie has certainly kicked up a lot of mud in this second installment with explosions, gunshots, cheap laughs and slow-motion. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Hopefully there is a third film, and hopefully Ritchie displays more restraint that time around.

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