Ok, Robert Downey, Jr. I’m happy that you have resurrected your career, that you have come back from drugs and jail and overcome the “nobody will ever work with you again” label. I know you probably feel like you’ve got a lot to prove and want to take advantage of this second life, but, seriously—-stop. Stop with the schtick. You used to be a really good actor, Oscar-nominated and versatile. Now all you seem to know how to play is a snarky, over-the-top smartass. And, quite frankly, it’s getting old.
I’ll admit I liked the first Sherlock Holmes, the 2009 Guy Ritchie reboot featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous characters, legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and his loyal partner, Dr. Watson. But the second installment, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, feels too much like a formula run amuck, with a gimmick that just doesn’t work anymore. The characterization originally created by Downey for the character of Sherlock was refreshing and interesting the first time around. Normally portrayed as a staid, stuffy brainiac, Sherlock was now a hip, action-oriented joker who alternates between buffoonery and brilliance. This played well against Watson’s (played by Jude Law) by-the-book predictability and their chemistry as characters and actors—along with Ritchie’s slam bang visual style—made for one hell of a good time. The second time around, however, is a disappointing rehash of style and substance, punctuated by Downey’s “look how clever I am” performance that undercuts any likeability for the character or the movie itself.
Downey’s outrageously arrogant performance also undercuts the solid and underachieving Law, whose Watson is by far the most entertaining character in the film. But because this is the Sherlock/Downey show, Law is left to play sidekick, relegating a truly talented actor and interesting character to being the butt of jokes and the vehicle for Sherlock’s crazy antics.
Director Ritchie is known for his unique visual style, but this film ends up feeling more like a video game than a movie. Ritchie’s trademark action sequences, highlighted by stop-and-go action and close-ups, are so polished and stylized that you end up not really caring about the plot that fills the space between each action sequence.
The plot that is there is pretty basic, revolving around Sherlock’s arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty (played to the hilt by Jared Harris). There is a contrived plot device that allows for a female character to get in on the act, but anything that allows Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (best known to American audiences as the first incarnation of Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to get in an American Hollywood film is fine by me. Even though Rapace’s character feels like window dressing, she still provides nice depth in an otherwise shallow film.
But let’s be clear. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a movie not interested in depth or plot or characters, it’s only interested in one thing: being cool. So if you like extremely stylized action (read: fight) sequences, a score that will make your head throb and a lead character who defines the word cocky, then this one is for you. Is it wrong to wish for the old Robert Downey, Jr. back?