In practice, the first sequel in a franchise tends to be the weaker of the two (Die Hard II, Mission: Impossible II) but there are exceptions (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Aliens) that manage to break the rule of diminishing returns.
Whereas the first Sherlock Holmes (2009) film rambled on with a meandering story and had Robert Downey’s performance being eclipsed by a far more interesting Jude Law, the screenwriters of Game of Shadows seemed to feel the best way to handle Holmes and Dr. Watson was to enhance their divisions and combative behaviour based on what had been established in the first film: Holmes had overstepped his boundary and offended Watson and his bride-to-be, and the super detective’s arrogance had gone too far too many time for Watson’s patience, mandating a needed separation.
When Shadows begins, Watson’s intellectual self is in the process of pushing him away from Holmes, and he’s looking forward to his new life as a married man with a hottie, yet Holmes’ trickery creates more grievous upsets – tossing the new bride out of a moving train, for example – which aggravates their professional relationship. Their need to remain together stems from the evil maneuvering of slimy Prof. Moriarty (slimy Jared Harris), who appears to have killed Holmes’ fiery love Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams – hottie of the prior film, and sure to return in the next sequel) and is now determined to wipe out the dynamic detective duo.
The story is unsurprisingly byzantine – new clues yield new near-death experiences – and the addition of Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace) really does nothing except ensure there’s a pretty face bumping into due when things are getting too masculine, but what distinguishes Shadows from its predecessor is the dry humour and Holmes’ increasingly odd behaviour, often donning more elaborate disguises, and driving Watson to near madness (and murder). It’s a tighter script in terms of dialogue, and more so than in the first film, Guy Ritchie’s visual indulgences work extremely well in several kinetic action scenes. A chase through a thick backwoods is a superbly choreographed with bullets, canons, slo-mo footage, frame ratcheting, kinetic editing, and wit scurrying across the frame, whereas Watson’s sad ‘bachelor party’ works with more traditional editorial touches.
Also on hand in Games is Hans Zimmer’s score which either by design, by its existence in a temp track, or coincidence integrates small aspects of Ennio Morricone (specifically, a cue from Two Mules for Sister Sarah!), plus more klezmer music and Wagnerian bombast. It’s a great score that neatly supports and enhances the antics of the detectives without treating them as buffoons; they’re just a brilliant, eccentric couple who in different times might have been married.
Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray includes a sharp transfer and standard making-of extras, of which the most detailed are in WHV’s Maximum Movie Mode, covering most production aspects (but lacking an exclusive showcase on the score’s creation).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan