Cinematic Flashback: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Review

The year was 1891. Storm clouds were brewing over Europe. France and Germany were at each other’s throat, the result of a series of bombings. Some said it was the Nationalists. Others, the anarchists. But, as usual, my friend Sherlock Holmes, had a different theory entirely as Jason’s Movie Blog present the latest “cinematic flashback” for the 2011 film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.


“The game is afoot!”

Director: Guy Ritchie

Writer: Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace

Run Time: 129 minutes

Release Date: December 16th, 2011

Rated: PG-13


Against the backdrop of the global unrest, shortly after solving the nearly supernatural events of Lord Blackwood, the keenly observant and super sleuth of deduction, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.), along with his loyal comrade-in-arms, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), who’s about to get married, find themselves drawn deeper and deeper into a sinister international conspiracy. As war closes in on 1891 Europe, a faint trail of breadcrumbs leads Sherlock to the cryptic Romanian fortune-teller, Madame Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace), and an unexpected but diabolical adversary: the mathematical genius and arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Now, before the criminal mastermind’s elaborate web of murder and deception, no one is safe, especially those close to Holmes and Watson. Can the intrepid duo prevent an international catastrophe? Is the world prepared for Moriarty’s villainous game of shadows?


With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, I’ve had a lot of time to clean up various place throughout my house. So, I decided to clean up my movie collection; finding some movies I wanted to get rid of (only seeing once and not to my liking) and some that I wanted to revisit (even loaded a few “hidden gems” on my VUDU account). While sorting through this plethora DVDs and Blu-Ray, I came across Guy Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes movies; two feature films that I haven’t seeing in quite a while. So, I decided to watch both of them to pass the time and then decided to do a “cinematic flashback” on both of them. Previously, I did a “cinematic flashback” for Sherlock Holmes and now its time to do one for its 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. If read that previous reviews, you know that I pretty much enjoy Guy Ritchie’s cinematic reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character and was quite eager to se this sequel movie when it came out (yes, I did see it in theaters). So, with further ado, here are my thoughts on Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Like its predecessor, A Game of Shadows is directed by Guy Pearce, who is quite well-known for his bringing his own creative directorial uniqueness and cinematic techniques to most of his feature film projects. Thus, like what he was able to initial setup in the 2009 film, Ritchie returns to the Sherlock Holmes world he created previously, with a slightly firmer grasp on what he aims to accomplish; making A Game of Shadows a bit more superior to Sherlock Holmes. As in all sequels, Richie sets the stage for a larger story to play out and certainly does so; giving characters of Holmes and Watson an international conspiracy plot to unravel as well as discovering the mastermind behind it all. Though it may be a bit unoriginal, it definitely works for the film and delivers a solid presentation of mystery and adventure to unfold. Under Ritchie’s guiding hand, A Game of Shadows broadens the film’s world and gives us (the viewers) an entertaining narrative to follow. Basically, if you liked the first Sherlock Holmes movie, you’ll definitely like this one.

In the presentation, A Game of Shadow is very much like the 2009 predecessor, with Ritchie continuing to give the film’s cinematic world a sort of “grim and grime” within the Victorian-era London setting as well as showcasing the beauty of other locations beyond the streets by London, England by broaden the story’s sets and location for Holmes and Watson to uncover. Thus, the set-pieces, locations, and costumes are all very good and certainly make the film’s backdrop setting alive and organically life-like. Plus, the film’s cinematography is once again heavily utilized with plenty of flourishes and heightened daring dos of danger and adventure on the same level as a Hollywood blockbuster. Also, Hans Zimmer returns to score the feature and once again masterfully gives a fine composition to accompany the narrative of characters and events throughout.

There were a few problems that I had with A Game of Shadows, with most notable criticism is that it kind of takes a bit to get started. Yes, there are a excitement and danger in the first act, but those scenes are few and are between and certain sequences seem to wear out there welcome. This is especially noticeable considering that the film’s runtime is 129 minutes (two hours and nine minutes) and seems to a few “filler” pieces every now and again (i.e. Watson’s wedding and a arms factory). Additionally, the movie utilizes the whole “slo-motion” technique a little bit too much for dramatic effect. Yes, it adds dramatic notion and cinematic uniqueness, but the feature gets over saturated with the filmmaking effect. Plus, in terms of the film’s story, I always kind of felt that there could’ve been more to the film’s ending narrative. It’s kind of weird, but I just felt like maybe a bit more of a conclusion to Holmes and Watson’s journey (and their dealings with Moriarty) could’ve been given a more finality….at least in A Game of Shadows’ storyline.

As in the 2009 film, the movie’s cast is spot on, with cheeky and witty banter cleverness behind actors Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law’s John Watson is very much the “beating heart” of what made the first film likeable and do so again in this second Sherlock Holmes outing. Downey proves once again to give Holmes a creative uniqueness with his charm and bravado; bringing the intellect and humor to the character, while Law continues to be solid as the more “grounded” (strait-laced) individual of the two as Watson. In the villain role, actor Jared Harris does an impeccable job in bringing to life Doyle’s infamous character of Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’s eternal rival. Harris is a great actor and seems to give Downey Jr.’s Holmes a run for his money as both a intellectual individual as well as a mastermind for scheming. Additionally, Noomi Rapace gives a surprisingly fun turn as a strong female supporting character in the role of Madame Simza Heron….a somewhat great foil to Downey Jr. and Law in the film (a sort of replacing of Rachel McAdams’s character of Irene Adler in the story). Speaking of which I was a bit disappointed that McAdams’s Adler did not get a bigger role in A Game of Shadows, but Richie had stated the character was going to have a minimal substance in the film. Lastly, as a minor humorous tone, actor Stephen Fry is charming as Holmes’s brother, Mycroft.

In the realm of Hollywood sequels, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is indeed a solid feature film by expanding upon Guy Ritchie’s 2009 predecessor film and creating a new cinematic adventure for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic fictional character. To me, I liked A Game of Shadows more so than 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, especially with the more introduction of Moriarty as the main antagonist, the story, the cast, and the overall presentation of the feature. It’s definitely one of those sequels that does deliver on being better than the previous one. With a third installment being set to be released in late 2021 (Downey Jr. and Law set to return with director Dexter Fletcher replacing Guy Ritchie), it seems that the character of Sherlock Holmes will get a new tale of mystery, intrigue, and adventure. And that is one “threequel” I will look forward to see….

Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.2 Out of 5

FUN FACT: The slow-motion work in the film was done by Gavin Free, an English filmmaker who works for the Rooster Teeth Productions, and is known for his web series, The Slow Mo Guys, on YouTube.

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