I worry that Robert Downey Jr. is turning into Johnny Depp.
Guy Ritchie’s 2009’s Sherlock Holmes will never be mistaken for a great movie. But it was clever, light on its feet and at least offered the winning spectacle of Downey and Jude Law bickering like a couple of old queens. The dude-ish, bare-knuckle brawling Sherlock Holmes upset most dedicated followers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, but I could roll with the reinterpretation.
Not so with this sorry sequel, landing in theaters this week with a thud like a lump of Christmas coal.
A Game of Shadows suffers from what I like to call Jewel of the Nile syndrome. You go to see the sparking chemistry between the two leads, but the movie does its best to keep them apart for as long as humanly possible. It’s all bigger and louder, and so much less.
Downey returns as Sherlock, briefly glimpsed guzzling embalming fluid but also working on a weird sort of autopilot. He’s phoning the role in, never appearing engaged or excited, and sorely lacking the prankish spirit that kinda carried the previous picture. Downey is one of my favorite living actors, but here he might as well be playing Captain Jack Sparrow. There’s a deadness to his delivery, hitting overfamiliar beats as if he’s walking through a theme park instead of a movie.
Jude Law’s poor Watston was supposed to be off on his honeymoon, grumpily returning for duty with his prissy moustache in tow, and sadly little of their easy banter.
Rachel McAdams makes a too-brief return before vanishing to set up the next sequel, I presume. This leaves us stuck with Noomi Rapace. The original Girl With a Dragon Tattoo seems to be pronouncing all her lines phonetically, delivering exposition and mysticism. The nicest thing I will say about her performance is that she can almost speak English.
Holmes can’t even be bothered to solve much in what there is of this mystery, and eventually Jared Harris turns up as a sorely outmatched Professor Moriarty. The mad doctor has a lab full of WMD, and is hankering to start a war. Moriarty, if you recall, was built up big in the last movie, never showing his face but pulling strings behind the scenes as some kind of super-evil genius. Everybody from Brad Pitt to Daniel Day-Lewis was rumored for a role in this sequel. Instead, we get Jared Harris. He’s remarkable on Mad Men , actually. But in Game of Shadows, Harris can’t handle going toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr. even when the latter is working at half-speed. Professor Moriarty is one of the great, iconic villains in literature. But he’s so underwhelming here. Moriarty and Holmes finally duke it out during a chess game, and there’s no question who’s gonna win the match.
Once they finally get together, Holmes and Watson seem to spend the majority of the picture running from explosions. Guy Ritchie really likes his artillery fire, ramping up the shutter speed and slowing down the exposure for a great deal of sound and noise that doesn’t really signify much of anything. The homo-erotic banter between our heroes can scarcely be heard over all this cacophony.
Downey just appears sullen, staggering from scene to scene as if looking for a missing paycheck. His face is sunken and resigned; there is no joy in this performance. He looks tired and old. Oh, how I used to treasure this actor, with his quicksilver line readings and off-kilter reaction shots! But he really has become Johnny Depp here, wandering from one budget-busting set piece to another, half-heartedly pretending to be loutish.
By the time Ritchie pulls out a waterfall—curiously located on top of a mountain, in defiance of all laws of physics—I was genuinely shocked that he went for Doyle’s career-killing “Final Problem.” (Honestly, I didn’t think Guy Ritchie even knew how to read.) But the buildup is not enough, grappling for an epic showdown that hasn’t been earned.
The BBC recently mounted a wonderful series of Sherlock pitcures starring Benedict Cumberbatch and the original U.K. Office ’s Martin Freeman as splendidly splenetic Watson. Updating old stories for the smartphone era, there are some terrific nail-biters in there, with all the wit and levity that’s missing from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Jared Harris