Again though, Sherlock Holmes wasn't a perfect film by any means. Besides the fact that the flick seemed a bit sporadic, my biggest complaint of all is that the detective's skills were constantly wasted on towering muscle-dummies and a villain that wasn't an equal to Holmes in any perceivable way. There were flashes of cleverness sprinkled throughout the film's entirety and it was certainly an enjoyable romp, but without someone that could actually pose as a threat to the detective, that much needed sense of fear and danger was nowhere to be found. Because the newly realized Sherlock had both brains and brawn, there was no reason to bite my nails in anticipation because I knew our hero would come out on top. No, the stakes justdidn't feel high enough... but that all changes in Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows.
In their last adventure together, Holmes and Watson were stalked from the shadows by an ominous presence, a man who pulled all of his carefully plotted strings from behind a curtain - Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Moriarty used the events in the first film as a diversion to obtain a device that could help him execute a grander scheme - To stage an international incident that would inevitably snowball into the next World War, which would allow the professor to make a mint acting as the world's leading supplier of ammunition. However, his identity had previously been revealed to Sherlock Holmes and the detective has managed to keep an obnoxiously close eye on him ever since. Although Moriarty is impressed by the worthy opponent he's found in Holmes, the detective is finally beginning to piece things together and interfere with his work and there's simply too much at stake to allow that. So, the professor arranges a sit-down to both applaud his adversary for such remarkable diligence and deliver an ultimatum. Just to show he's not a man of hollow threats, Moriarty produces an item that flips Holmes' entire world upside down, but this only ensures that the detective will now relentlessly engage in a battle of wits to take his archenemy down once and for all.
The mere foreshadowing of Moriarty's involvement in the first film felt far more menacing than anything else it had to offer, so it's a real pleasure to see this character brought out from behind the wizard's curtain in A Game of Shadows. This is an especially satisfying inclusion for those that are familiar with the literary Holmes series, as Moriarty was the detective's most dangerous nemesis even then. That being said, I was concerned when I heard he would be the main villain in the sequel, because I wasn't sure how Hollywood would interpret that character and how it would ultimately affect his dynamic with Holmes. After all, Sherlock himself had been given far more generous abilities than he had already been blessed with... and why? Well, to make for a far more interesting film, of course. I'm aware the original tales as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had some intense action in them from time to time, but Holmes was not the untouchable fighting machine he had been transformed into. So yes, I was concerned that Moriarty would be less of an intellectual and more of a physical brute, which unfortunately would have lent the film a comic-book quality. Fortunately though, their encounters are wisely depicted as a psychological game of chess with fatal consequences, which allows all the action to stem from Moriarty's hired goons, such as the equally chilling sniper for hire, Sebastian Moran (who is known in the literary Holmes universe as the second most dangerous man in the world, just behind Moriarty). This allows the fear and danger to finally be a factor for the new-age Holmes, as his clever opponent is actually able to cause the detective to make mistakes and second guess himself. With the playing field between hero and villain finally leveled, it's truly as if all bets are off and anything can happen at any time. One even has to wonder at times if Holmes has finally gotten himself in over his head, because Moriarty not only stays one step ahead of the detective more often than not, he's seemingly leading Holmes in the right direction most of the time on purpose, just for his own amusement.
This film really does offer a suspenseful game of cat and mouse, elevating the Sherlock Holmes film franchise to a place that can be taken more seriously than a bit of cinematic bubblegum. A large part of this is undoubtedly due to Jared Harris' portrayal of Moriarty, as he successfully embodied an evil man whose intentions were based off of logically sound ideologies, while yielding just enough to maintain elegant, if not graceful poise and sophistication all at the same time. Paul Anderson does himself, as well as the audience, a great service, as he depicts the cold and calculating intensity of Sebastian Moran as if it were second nature to him. Of course, we can't talk about the merits of those who appear in front of the camera without mentioning Robert Downey Jr. or Jude Law, right? In the first Sherlock Holmes film, I thought they fit together well enough, but there was something about their relationship that didn't feel as natural as it could have. The same holds true at the very beginning of the sequel, but it isn't long before we're finally able to see what Holmes and Watson truly mean to each other as friends, and unlike after seeing the previous film, once the end credits rolled I found myself hoping to see these two working together again soon. It's endearing to know that this kind of a partnership can exist in a Hollywood film, and successfully at that, because I'm so tired of studios trying to cash their chips on the next Rush Hour or CopOut.
Last but most certainly not least, the people behind the camera really deserve a lot of credit this time around for essentially fixing what hindered the previous entry from being something special. A Game of Shadows feels like a much more focused effort than before - The dialogue isn't as unnecessarily busy, the plot and pacing of the film overall feel far more natural, and although Holmes is still made to follow red herrings, it doesn't feel as though he's being sent on wild goose chases just to bloat the film's runtime. Furthermore, the action and fight sequences are edited together impressively enough that I actually took notice at how good the timing was. Really, I enjoyed mostly everything this sequel had to offer, and I can honestly say that this is better than original, hands down. The only complaints I have overall are pretty minor - The first being that there's still some gratuitous usage of bullet time action technology. This film really didn't need such a gimmick to 'enhance' anything, as the story and characters are compelling enough. Other than that, my only other nitpick is that Holmes' ability to predict certain outcomes is still way too fantastical for my liking, but everything else this film has to offer really does make up for such shortcomings.
For some, the Sherlock Holmes franchise might never be a viable option to fulfill their entertainment needs, but I found A Game of Shadows to be the perfect blend between the serious and mindless popcorn chompin' fun.
Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows comes to Blu-ray with a stunning 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1) that should please anyone emulating the great detective from their couch with a magnifying glass. The detail, clarity and depth on display are consistently precise from the first frame to the last, and there's not a single sign of edge enhancement or digital noise reduction that threaten to break that consistency up. The color palette has been graded to look less natural with some blue and grayish tinting, probably to help solidify the illusion that we're watching something from an older time period, or perhaps to further establish the film's more serious tone (although I'd be willing to place my money on the former since the first Holmes feature looked similar). That being said, this color grading doesn't keep the bold colors that do come up in the film from time to time, from looking any less vibrant. Last but not least, black levels are as deep and inky as can be, and have been used intentionally to, just like the color grading, add to the overall tone of the film, and it does so without creating any unintentional black crush. As far as I can tell, everything is 100% faithful to the source and there are no blemishes to distract from the experience. The video on this release will keep even the most astute observers of digital anomalies to walk away satisfied.
Warner cracks the case wide open yet again with a flawless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. A lot of care obviously went in to the overall sound mix, because the level of immersion that's available on this track is out of this world. It doesn't matter if Holmes is hiding in plain sight with another one of his bad costumes, or if bombs are going off at the same time our heroes are running from a forest filled with gunfire - I always felt as if I was a part of the action. Both major and minor sound effects in action sequences were offered with pinpoint precision and depth, and when the film took a breather from audible assault, I was treated to some of the most impressive environmental ambience effects I've heard in a while. I know that Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows might not be your first choice when you want to show off your home theater to a group of friends, but as far as a faithful and accurate listening experience, I'm not sure how much better you could possibly hope to do!
-Maximum Movie Mode - I nearly shat my pants when I realized the king of all Blu-ray supplements was going to appear on this release, especially since it was to be hosted by none other than Robert Downey Jr. himself. Maximum Movie Mode? Robert Downey Jr. standing between two screens while pausing and rewinding the film to dissect how everything went down behind-the-scenes? That's one hell of a draw, right? Well, unfortunately, this isn't the 'maximum movie mode' that everyone is hoping for - This is really more of a picture-in-picture commentary with Robert Downey Jr., and although it's perfectly adequate, I really don't like seeing such amazing features listed only to get half-assed versions of them on the final product. All in all though, basing this specific supplement on its own merits, it's an informational track for sure, and Robert Downey Jr. is about as charming and funny as you would expect him to be. Despite the fact this isn't THE maximum movie mode you were hoping for, it's still worth your time nonetheless.
-A Game of Shadows - Movie App - Gah. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm not a fan of gimmicks. Who honestly wants to sit down to watch a movie, and then whip out their cell phone or tablet so they can pay attention to two screens throughout the entirety of the film? Provide me the special features on the main Blu-ray disc, or perhaps on a special supplement disc that gets included as a bonus, and let me see what you have to offer on my HDTV!
-Focus Points - The 'focus point' featurettes that appear throughout the 'maximum movie mode' experience are accessible separately via this menu.
Also included is a DVD and Ultraviolet copy of the film.
It's not very often I can say this about a sequel, but Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows bests its predecessor in every perceivable way. Yes, there are still certain sequences in the film that are just too fantastical for their own good, but the rest of the film actually plays out like a nail-biting game of intellectual one-upmanship, and despite the nearly indestructible character I can only classify as the 'new age' Sherlock Holmes, this time around the world's greatest detective actually finds himself making mistakes that cost lives. That makes the danger this time around far more real, which is exactly what this franchise needed to gain a bit of credibility. All I really have left to say is this - If you're a fan of serious films that have a well structured plot and also appreciate the mindless popcorn action genre, I highly recommend you make it a point to see this film. Hell, even if you haven't seen the first Sherlock Holmes as of yet, check A Game of Shadows out anyway, as it's been made to be accessible to veterans and newcomers alike. Personally, I can't wait for the studio to turn this into a trilogy (come on, you know they will). As far as the technical aspects of this disc are concerned, the A/V presentation is flawless, although the supplements left a little to be desired. Well, what are you waiting for gumshoes? Get crackin'!