Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows! More like Sherlock Holmes: a Gayme of Shadows, am I right? (I am right.) Godawful title aside, this sequel was really fun and a worthy successor to the original, though it’s pretty obvious that this is not going to be a franchise where each film is more innovative than the last, plotwise. It’s no big deal, because the characters and the sheer, absolute glee everyone involved seems to have for these movies will be more than enough to carry it forward for the foreseeable future.
Returning from the first film are, duh, Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law). Apparently they made a bet about who could look more like they wanted to have tender kisses in the moonlight. Spoiler alert: both of them won. It’s intense. Also returning are Mary Watson (Kelly Reilly) and Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), though the latter is more of a cameo. It’s also one of the few things that really bothered me, but that is a discussion for later.
The new faces include Noomi Rapace as a French (Roma?) fortuneteller named Sim who knows how to throw a punch in addition to reading tarot cards. She and Holmes enlist each other’s help in the search for her disappeared brother. Jared Harris also appears as Professor James Moriarty, fulfilling the Mark Strong role as Awesome British Actor You Occasionally Forget About Until He Pops Up In Whatever You’re Watching And Reminds You That You Like Him. Moriarty also fulfills the Lord Blackwood role as Villain With Plans That Are Huge In Scale, Yet So Vaguely Defined That They Make You Wonder If The Villain Has A Terrible Drinking Problem In Addition To An Evil Problem. I mean, I don’t know a lot about classic Holmes canon, but isn’t Moriarty supposed to be, like, the Joker to Holmes’s Batman? A huge deal? Jared Harris is wonderful, but I kept thinking “No, hey, Wile E. Coyote isn’t the best villain to emulate.” Don’t buy your ACME-brand rocket skates and expect them to catch you a roadrunner, and don’t spend a billion dollars manufacturing a war without being totally sure a couple of murders are going to start said war. Moriarty does have his saucy pet assassin, Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson), on his side. Moran is actually way more competent than Moriarty, just less rich and ambitious. This should be kind of embarrassing for Moriarty, but hey, you don’t get to that level of evil without just a soupçon of narcissistic megalomania.
Last on the docket is Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry). I bet that was really awkward for Oscar Wilde to see Bosie again. Mycroft is a bureaucrat, varying degrees of pompous while still being generally charming. Basically, he is Stephen Fry.
The film begins with Holmes in horrendous yellowface. Actually, it begins with something else, but I missed the first few minutes because I’m the kind of genius who, when the ticket teller says “second theater on your right,” will stop to wash my hands in the bathroom with two entrances and get so completely turned around that I end up in the first theater on the left, which is showing Jack and Jill‘s previews. By the time I had seen the first 0.6 seconds of Jack and Jill, I had to try and run to the correct theater while screaming and vomiting blood all over the place. Which is a lot harder than it looks in 28 Days Later. Anyway, I stepped in just as Holmes was warning Irene that several men were following her, and calmed myself by the time she smirked off into the sunset and left him to apparently get the shit kicked out of him. BUT HE DID NOT.
I am something of a fighting buff. A punchoisseur, if you will. These movies have all the slow-motion breakdown-of-a-fight battle-porn deliciousness I love, and this fight is no exception, even without the slow-motion breakdown-of-a-fight parts. Holmes takes these jokers down handily enough, then heads to the auction house to harass Irene some more, and also stop the bomb that the old doctor is about to set off. Unfortunately, he sets it off by failing in some new and exciting direction, and Holmes dumps the thing into the sarcophagus and shoves it into the vault. Where it blows up. Just like his heart because Irene has disappeared and the doctor has been assassinated right outside, poison dart to the thigh.
Irene goes to a crowded restaurant and sits next to a bizarrely partitioned-off table. I wonder how much it costs to purchase your own Shrouded in Secrecy home kit? Probably a lot. Irene drinks tea and is uncomfortable as the shadowy man behind the partition asks what the hell happened, but things rapidly get even more uncomfortable as she says she was relieved of the envelope, and the man–okay, it’s Moriarty–correctly deduces that it was Holmes that stole it. He finally shows his face, and she’s like shiiiiit. He tells her that he knows she picked this restaurant because it was a public place, and motions for Sebastian Moran to knock his knife against his glass a few times. Everyone goes silent and clears out at once, and it’s super creepy and disturbing. Things do not look good for Irene.
They look even less good for her when Moriarty, passive-aggressively saying he blames himself and not her, tells her she’s free to go. She collapses a few feet away from the table, sick and coughing. Allegedly, Moriarty has slipped tuberculosis into her drink, which makes this the first ever cinematic case of teaberculosis ever encountered on film.
OKAY HERE’S WHERE I GOT MAD: she doesn’t appear for the rest of the movie, and Holmes does a little bit of sad staring and handkerchief-clutching about her, but that’s it. Guy Ritchie has a habit of killing women offscreen, but here’s the thing: I think that she’s not dead at all, because a) fridging women is so gross normally, but this one would be extra unnecessary because like Holmes wouldn’t go up against Moriarty anyway for funsies and b) we very pointedly do not see her dead, and Holmes very pointedly does not bring it up with Moriarty, which leads me to believe he doesn’t think she’s dead, either. THERE I PROVED IT WITH SCIENCE FACTS.
221 Baker Street! GLADSTONE! ALSO WATSON, BUT GLADSTONE! I can tell you from personal experience that the trainer of any bulldog that appears in a movie is a miracle worker. I have one (pictured wearing this very website’s delightful merch!), and getting her to do anything is like yelling at a jowly, farty, slobbery sack of potatoes.
Watson handsomes his way into the house, where Holmes’s room/office has been converted into a jungle. Holmes starts rasping things like Where am I and Watsoooooon from the leafy depths of the room-jungle. Watson’s like, you’re a psychopath, and that’s BEFORE Holmes starts shooting darts into him. He‘s invisible, and when Watson looks back to see where it came from, there is nothing but a guilty-looking goat and turkey standing there. There’s what is clearly a Holmes dummy sitting by the window. Watson sits down in a chair and opens up a newspaper, then gets shot again. He’s taking this remarkably well.
Holmes appears suddenly, wearing some of the most awkwardly long-underwearish urban camouflage ever, and makes fun of Watson for not knowing where he was.
Watson, tiny darts still sticking out of him, sardonically tells Holmes he’s missed him. Holmes gets all up in his face, like “DID YOU REALLY I HAVEN’T MISSED YOU AT ALL I’M SO BUSY WITH MY CASE AND MY LONG UNDERWEAR AND ALSO YOUR SCARF IS FUGLY.” And yea, it is fugly. Holmes has been extremely busy a) extracting stuff from the adrenal glands of animals to make better drugs and b) has planned a stag party for Watson. Well, “planned” a “stag party for Watson.” It’s more like he failed to plan a disaster that Watson was vaguely considered to be involved in. Also, Holmes stabs Gladstone with a syringe full of his adrenaline concoction, and Gladstone goes from catatonic to insane in a few seconds, zooming off into the jungle. Holmes gives some of it to Watson as a wedding present. I think “THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER <33333333333333 xoxo sherlock" was probably engraved on it somewhere.
They arrive at the gambling club by automobile. Mycroft is there. He calls Holmes Sherly, gets into an observation-off with him, and, when Watson correctly deduces that Mycroft must be there for something more than his stag party, tells Holmes that Watson’s not nearly as stupid as Holmes makes him sound. Which is a weird bit of writing, unless Mycroft is lying? Holmes always seemed to pretty much respect Watson’s intelligence, I think. WHATEVER IT IS TIME FOR STAG PARTY FUNTIMES.
The gambling club is full of raucous dudes, androgynous waitstaff, and girls on swings above the playing tables. It quickly becomes apparent that Holmes has not invited any of Watson’s friends besides himself and Mycroft, who isn’t even Watson’s friend, and this is the most sadly hilarious thing in the history of sadly hilarious things. Holmes quickly abandons Watson to his gambling, making his way up to the second floor to meet Madame Simsa. He sits down in front of her and promptly takes her tarot cards away, pretending to read her fortune. She plays along, telling him he’s not making her believe it, but quickly, quietly freaks out when he gives her the envelope he stole from Irene. She reads the contents--it’s a note from her brother, Rene, telling her he loves her but he’s got a greater purpose he must attend to, and thus won’t be seeing her again. He drew her a picture of his face so that she can see it one last time. This is upsetting to her, and she orders Holmes to GTFO. He doesn’t, instead leaning down to whisper in her ear that there’s a giant Cossack assassin suspended in the ceiling beams, and he’s probably going to kill her. She’s like eh? But lo, there is a giant Cossack assassin suspended in the ceiling beams! Holmes and Sim act cool, until Holmes yanks him down with a cane and starts a fight.
He goes through the fight himself, but it doesn’t go according to plan, mostly because Sim is a badass and does stuff like kicking the assassin through a wall and into the middle of a cockfight. Unfortunately, Holmes also falls through the wall, so they start cockfighting instead of the roosters that are down there. Predictably, the Cossack loses terribly. I love that in this movie’s universe, it’s just not questioned that female characters can kick the shit out of people just as well as male characters.
Sim, shaken, leaves Holmes to sweep up what remains of Watson, who has been either cheating or doing something else inappropriate and also gets thrown out onto the street, totally drunk and a little belligerent. Holmes drags him into the carriage, apparently driving them all through the night so he can get to his wedding in the morning. He fixes Watson up a little bit--they’re both looking rough--and holds his hand to steady him (ROMANTICALLY?) as they walk into the church. Holmes gives him away, aaw.
Holmes disappears during the ceremony, heading outside where Sebastian Moran is waiting to deliver a message for Moriarty. Luckily, Holmes would also like to meet with Moriarty. He does, at Some Fancy English University, and they test the waters with one another for a while. Holmes makes some mental notes of books, a planter full of dead flowers, etc., and finally Moriarty drops the knowledge that Holmes had better step off, or he’s going to start wreaking some havoc all over everything Holmes loves. He’s already started--he gives Holmes the last handkerchief that Irene coughed blood on and sends him on his way.
Later, in Holmes's Den of Crazycakes, Watson stops by to say goodbye before his honeymoon. Holmes has maps and news clippings and red strings all over the place. He’s drinking straight embalming fluid (don’t try this. You will die). Watson says he’s manic and probably kind of psychotic, and laments not bringing him a sedative. He heads off, and Holmes has a general aura of “let’s fuck shit up” about him.
Trainyard! Watson catches glimpses of someone he figures might be important later on, in terms of things that will ruin his honeymoon, but ignores it. He and Mary are cute and dorky in their compartment (Watson has his gun on him, which makes Mary nervous, but they are too in love to worry about it), doubly so when an attendant shows up with a bottle of champagne. BUT THAT IS NO ATTENDANT. He locks the door and shuts off the lights. Watson beats him down and Mary holds the gun on him until Watson shoves him out of the moving train.
Everything kind of goes to shit in that moment, particularly when Watson looks out and sees more fake attendants heading his way. They all get beaten down pretty handily by a really buff lady. That really buff lady is Holmes in--I’m sorry--terrible drag. Even he recognizes that it’s awful. Watson’s just flabbergasted that he paired that eyeshadow with that lipstick.
Holmes goes into the compartment while Watson keeps watch outside, yelling classy equivalents of COME AT ME, BRO. He congratulates Mary on the wedding, then asks if she trusts him. Wisely, she says no. He says he’ll have to earn it, and shoves her out of the train and into the water. EVEN IF SHE DIDN’T DIE SHE COULD HAVE BEEN SERIOUSLY INJURED, HOLMES, JESUS. Holmes tells Watson to come inside and shut the door. It takes Watson a second to notice that Mary is no longer with them, at which point he freaks out and attacks Holmes. In a scene that set the internet all aflutter, they have a tiny bang-fight on the seat, yelling and hitting and thigh-strangling. It’s halted only by the arrival of more goons.
Holmes has previously sabotaged the main goon’s gun, putting a tube of lipstick into his bandolier and covering the men in gunpowder so that, when the gun backfires, they’re all lit up like Christmas trees/menorahs/kinaras/Kwanzaa cake. Holmes and Watson escape onto the side of the train, still arguing. Mary is safe, having been picked up in a rowboat by Mycroft (“Oh, there’s two of you”), but they’re not yet out of hot water. Another surviving attendant tries to shoot them off of the side, but ends up blowing himself and the rest of the train to pieces. Holmes tells Watson they’re going to France
because it’s way more romantic to find Sim, and Watson’s just like, whatever, asshole.
France! Gypsy camp in France! They get clowned and robbed and into a fight immediately, during which time we discover that Sim means goose. Sim invites them into her home, and they discuss Rene and how Holmes thinks he may be connected to Moriarty’s ill-defined and ridiculous plan to start a world war in which he controls the flow of ammunition and medical supplies. Holmes and Watson and Sim brainstorm to try and figure out where Rene is, and when the wine stain on the paper jogs Sim’s memory, she tells them she and Rene used to be part of a French guerilla group. They left when it got too crazy for them, but Sim says that Rene may have gone back. She has a bunch of his drawings, and that pretty much clinches it.
AND THEN THEY EAT HEDGEHOG GOULASH, DRINK THE GYPSY BOOZE, AND DANCE THE GYPSY DANCE. The stunning beauty of this scene cannot be rendered in mere text, so I will not try, but I think I saw a body roll or two.
They visit the bomb-making revolutionary in his bombatorium. He’s eating dinner and acting strangely. They ask him for information about Rene, about Moriarty, anything, but things take a turn for the dire when he says that he got into this bombing gig by Moriarty’s huge bankroll, and then he got pressganged because Moriarty stole his family when he wanted to leave. So he does the only logical thing and just goddamn shoots himself in the head right there. Sim is stunned, but they manage to escape the revolutionaries that are about to find them in this awkward situation through a hidden door.
Holmes realizes that Moriarty is going to set off a bomb that night, and remembers seeing a pedestal being carried out of the bomb base. The run to an opera house as a bunch of important people meet in a hotel conference room, but Holmes realizes too late (when he sees Moriarty in the balcony) that Moriarty’s target wasn’t the opera house, but the hotel. They don’t get back to the hotel in time, and it blows the hell up. Holmes sees that one of the men has a bullet hole in his head, and the explosion was just a cover-up for the assassination.
Holmes, Watson, and Sim go to the building across the street to try and figure out trajectories. They deduce that the shooter could have been none other than Sebastian Moran, Saucy Assassin Extraordinaire and Watson’s old army non-buddy from Afghanistan.
They come up with a brilliant plan that can in no way fail because of a lack of communication and somebody deciding to go off the book. Sim and her comrades will wait outside Moriarty’s munitions factory to help Holmes and Watson escape after they have…uh…killed Moriarty? I’m blanking on what the actual plan was. PLANS ARE FOR LOSERS.
But first, they have to get to the munitions factory, and friends, the absolute for-all-time non-fighting highlight of this series (and my whole life) is this next scene. They must ride to the munitions factory on horseback, and everyone’s super cool with it except for Holmes. Apparently, they’re “dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle“, and “Why would I want anything with a mind of it’s own bobbing about between my legs?” (hee) He says they should have chartered a hot-air balloon and that he’ll require a bicycle, but there’s no time.
So he gets a tiny fat pony.
One tiny fat pony ride later, they’re at the munitions factory to implement their non-plan. Holmes and Watson hide out until Holmes asks Watson to deliver a telegram to Mycroft and be back in 45 minutes. Watson does, because he hasn’t learned anything in the years he’s been friends with Holmes.
Almost before Watson’s gone, Holmes goes into the factory and, pausing briefly to check out the enormous stockpile of weaponry, gets himself cornered by Moran. Moran has him check out these neat new machine pistol contraptions before drugging his ass and taking him to Moriarty. Moriarty villains at him for a while before putting on an opera record and blasting it out through the loudspeakers. Watson, down on the ground, realizes that Holmes is not where he should be. Furthermore, Watson is being shot at by Moran from a high tower. He takes cover.
Moriarty then proceeds to put a goddamn meathook through Holmes’s shoulder and hoist him up with it, sort of dancing around with his dangling body while he yells. Watson can hear the whole thing through the speakers, and it’s all tragic and romantic. Watson tries to return Moran’s fire, but he’s too high up for it to be of much use, because he can’t even poke his head out due to Moran’s vantage point. He realizes suddenly that he’s in extremely close proximity to a giant fucking cannon.
Moran also realizes that he’s in proximity to a giant fucking cannon, and starts down the side of the tower with a quickness. Watson shoots the whole tower down with his enormous dick cannon, rescuing his one true love in the process. Or possibly killing him? What is it with these people and their “I must do something horribly risky and dangerous to save you, but I’m sure it’ll be fine!” instincts?
Watson saves him, dragging him out of the rubble and toward where Sim & Co. are waiting by the wall. Which they cannot get over, because a shitload of German mercenaries, on orders from Moran, are currently shooting at them. One of the German soldiers solves their problem by blowing a hole in the wall with the cannon, through which our heroes escape into the forest. What follows is a really cool scene of them running in slow-motion (Phantom cameras? It kind of reminds me of how those look, but less detailed/ It‘s the sequel equivalent of the explosion at the meat plant in the first movie, violin music included) through the trees while the Germans and Moran chase them. Holmes isn’t looking good, and neither are most of Sim’s friends, who get shot down as they run toward an oncoming train. At one point, a totally sick tree-pulverizing round is fired at them, almost looking like it could take them all out. They make it to the train and jump into a conveniently open car, with only Holmes, Watson, Sim, and one other man remaining.
Then Holmes dies a little bit. OH MAN. I HATE THIS TROPE. If the movie is named after a character, that character is not going to die at the halfway point. Trying to trick the audience is the worst and I hate it so much, because any emotional resonance the scene would have had is a moot point if the viewer is over the age of four and has seen a movie ever in their lifetime.
Watson tries to resuscitate him with chest compressions and no mouth to mouth, though the latter would probably be more historically accurate (according to the internet. And I just read that apparently the literal blowing of tobacco smoke into someone’s ass was considered to be occasionally effective, too. SHERLOCK HOLMES 3: THE SMOKY CAVERN. It doesn’t work, and Watson repeatedly punches Holmes, yelling and growing increasingly frantic. Then he remembers Holmes’s wedding gift, and wastes no time jamming it into Holmes’s chest. Holmes wakes up, hollering, and runs across the train car, hallucinating crazy shit. Everyone is relieved and dejected once he calms down, and it briefly seems like they’re all going to go back home. MAIS NON. They’re going to Switzerland, where there’s a peace summit that Moriarty is planning to fuck up by having Rene assassinate someone there.
They go to Mycroft’s house (where he’s been walking around naked in front of Mary and giving her encoded love letters from Watson), and he gets them all invites to the peace summit, and also gets them a bunch of lovely, well-tailored clothing. The clothing doesn’t hide how banged up they are, which is cute. Holmes is concerned that Mycroft didn’t stop the summit altogether once he got the telegram (detailing that there was going to be an assassination/total war), but Mycroft is nonchalant, like he doesn’t quite believe him.
Summit party. They try to find Rene, but abruptly realize that he has had plastic surgery (from the doctor in the beginning) to look like someone else, one of the aides of the heads of state. A cute scene follows where Holmes and Sim dance, trying to pick out who the assassin could be, followed by another cute scene in which Holmes totally asks Watson to dance for the same reason, and they do. Apparently, Holmes taught Watson how. D’aaaaaw.
After the dancing, Moriarty swoops Holmes away while Watson and Sim search more. He takes Holmes out to a balcony (the mansion is on an icy mountain above Riechenbach Falls, where literary Holmes and Moriarty actually did die), and I swear to god, my notes on this scene just say CHESS GAME GAY BLANKET, because they do play chess, and Moriarty definitely puts a giant sexy blanket over Holmes’s shoulders so he doesn’t catch cold. Holmes is as discomfited as we are, but they play chess, and they talk. Moriarty says all he wanted to do was control the guns and bandaids for this war that he’s trying to start, and tells Holmes that he knows about the telegram, but why has nobody cancelled the summit? Because humans thrive on conflict, apparently. Hoo boy, I love it when sociopaths decide they know everything about how functioning humans work.
Inside, Sim and Watson scan the party, looking for telltale signs of surgery. They narrow it down to a few candidates, and for a tense few minutes (before a big photograph of the attendees), they can’t figure out which one it is. Finally, the lenses irritating Rene’s eyes give him away, and Sim goes to stop him. He refuses to stop, so he’s tackled, and there’s a huge commotion as he’s dragged away. He’s also super murdered by the lurking Moran, totally destroying Sim.
Moriarty and Holmes hear the commotion from inside, and they both put it together that Watson and Sim were successful. Holmes drives the nail in a bit when Moriarty tries to get cocky, and it’s revealed that the whole tower thing was to secure Moriarty’s encoded financial notebook and send it to Mary and Lestrade, who have succeeded in stealing the hell out of all Moriarty’s money. Even the secondary folks get to be badasses here!
Moriarty is quietly furious, and they both stand up and start scrolling through their moves list, assessing strengths and weaknesses. They both realize Holmes probably isn’t going to make it through this one. Before they can actually get into it, the door to the balcony opens and Watson appears. Holmes, making a totally smart and not stupid decision, decides to throw both himself and Moriarty over the railing and down the waterfall to their deaths. Watson is flabbergasted again.
UGH. TWICE IN ONE MOVIE? SERIOUSLY? Nevermind that this would actually, definitely, no chance of survival kill them both. UGGGGGH. Maybe he used his gay blanket as a parachute.
Later, there’s a funeral. Way more people than I thought there would be attend–maybe they’re Watson’s friends and this is like Stag Party 2: The Funeraling. After that, Watson prepares to finally go on his honeymoon with his wife, typing up the last of his stories about Holmes. She tells him that she misses him too, after a fashion, and he smiles and leaves the room with her.
SUDDENLY OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF A CHAIR APPEARS HOLMES. His urban camouflage was a rousing success, and when he sees THE END at the bottom of the page, he hits the question mark on Watson’s typewriter. And we’re done.
I only have one question, though: is Sherlock Holmes a goddamn ghost now? Because I will die waiting for the next movie. Imagine all the extra crimes he could solve!