Sherlock Holmes is among the most heavily adapted characters of all time. There has been some sort of a live-action adaptation of the character in every decade since the 20th century’s inception. The genius detective has had adaptations that may have their differences and similarities, from Granada TV’s extremely faithful adaptation to the books starring Jeremy Brett, to CBS TV’s modernized American take on Holmes starring Jonny Lee Miller.
Somewhere in between these adaptations, comes Guy Ritchie’s relatively faithful yet artistically style-oriented adaptation of the character starring Robert Downey Jr. Ritchie is known for having a highly style-over-substance style, where comedy is valued quite often. In Sherlock Holmes’ case, the spectacle is more emphasized than the depth of a mystery.
And while that worked for his first Sherlock Holmes film, it definitely shouldn’t work for something that adapts a story as important as The Final Problem. Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films are a little too focused on the characters’ flair than on their inner complexities.
How to Stream or Download Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
To stream or to download the film, click on the Download button that is located below this review. If you’re interested in Guy Ritchie’s films, check out also our review of his Aladdin and The Gentlemen (both from 2019).
The Movie Review
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows adapts important aspects of two of the most essential Sherlock Holmes short stories; The Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House.
It does mostly have a storyline of its own, but it brings key moments from those two storylines into the mix, not to mention that the storyline it originates is pretty toxic and overly style-over-substance too. It begins with some of the biggest franchise misfires, by doing an important character who gets a cameo dirty.
And all that adds to the plot is nothing but another trope of noir films. Holmes happens to be investigating a bunch of unrelated murders and terrorist attacks that seem to connect to James Moriarty.
Holmes then meets a fortune-teller named Madame Simza, who was supposed to receive the letter he’d taken from Irene Adler.
An assassin is sent to kill Simza, but Holmes, who’s a master combatant in these films ends up defeating the assassin but finds Simza fleeing away before he could interrogate her at all. Later on, after the marriage of John Watson and Mary Morstan, Moriarty and Holmes meet for the first time ever, with Moriarty threatening to kill both John and Mary if Holmes kept interfering with his criminal empire.
Considering such a tense situation, what would you expect Sherlock Holmes to do? Dive deeper into the depths of the mystery in a way so subtle that Moriarty won’t realize, but here, all he does is fight assassins alongside Watson. Holmes meets Simza again, who he concludes as another target of Moriarty and Rene.
Then begins the third act that somehow makes things even worse, with two stories crammed into one film, and that too with a weak build-up and the kind of characterization that only revolves around the action. The film, at every moment, seems like a hilarious caricature of the Sherlock Holmes universe, understanding only the outward appeal of the characters while paying no attention to the characters’ inner sides.
Michele and Kieran Mulroney’s screenwriting for the film is one of the worst ever adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, though with the vision of Guy Ritchie to blame for the most part. The dialogue feels like a parody of the characters, and the direction is much more focused on the style than the substance.
Hans Zimmer’s original score and Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography are among the positive exceptions, and they were the best aspects of the first film too, but even they can’t save Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
The Bottom Line
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is one of the weakest adaptations ever of the character, especially with the way they fail at adapting two of the most important Sherlock Holmes films, as well as how they treat the characters. Ritchie’s emphasis on action over mystery is another facet that takes authenticity away from the film. Following a mediocre predecessor, comes a sequel that has a lot going wrong. You shouldn’t be judged for watching it, but there are tons of other Sherlock Holmes adaptations to watch instead.