After Warner Bros. found immense box office success with their updated take on the Sherlock Holmes character, the studio fast-tracked a sequel with director Guy Ritchie set to return along with many of the cast members that made it such a winning entry into the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon. Robert Downey Jr. was game to return to the character while still riding high as Tony Stark over in the MCU. Jude Law was also tapped to reprise his role as the essential balance to the famed detective, Dr. John Watson. Unfortunately, the creative team saw fit to treat this franchise similar to the James Bond model of having a different key lady in each entry, which left Rachel McAdams without much of a role to play. Nevertheless, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows made a huge splash upon its release in December 2011, two years after the debut entry. This entry finds the world opening up a bit more in some really exciting ways that improve upon the first film.
This newest entry follows up on some plot threads that were introduced during the quiet, shadowy moments of the initial installment. A year after the events of Sherlock Holmes, our titular detective has suffered an intense tragedy that has sent him down a wormhole that leads to a figure who famously serves as Holmes’ greatest adversary, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris, Chernobyl). Holmes has deduced that various disparate tragedies around the globe actually trace back to the lauded professor, and he intends to be the person that brings him down. Harris appeared by voice only in the previous film, but moving him out of the shadows allows him to showcase one of the strongest portrayals of the supreme villain that I have seen. Harris imbues Moriarty with the perfect air of cleverness that makes you feel that he is evenly matched with our hero. The fiendish professor is not outright pugilistic, instead opting to pull the strings of his grand plan from behind the scenes. As an audience, you fully believe he is capable of not only fulfilling his anarchist plan, but also taking out Watson and his new bride, Mary (Kelly Reilly), to strike back at Holmes.
This new entry not only ups the stakes with a fantastic adversary, but also gain a huge bit of momentum by opening up the story beyond London. As Watson is once again roped in by Holmes to stop Moriarty’s mysterious plan for chaos, the duo embark on a journey that will take them to new lands filled with exciting new characters. It is at a gypsy compound outside of Paris where they find Simza (Noomi Rapace), a fortune teller who has ties to an anarchist group working for Moriarty. Rapace slips into the role of the female lead with a magnetic performance that almost makes you forgive how they treated McAdams. She assists them on their thrilling journey in hopes of rescuing her brother from making any stupid decisions. Also helping our heroes, in a different way, is Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who is guarding Mary from harm. Fry’s performance is utterly hilarious in a way that was unexpected for this film. The levity he brings is sincerely appreciated amongst the action-packed set pieces. A final stop in Switzerland provides a climax that balance thrills with psychological intrigue in equal measure.
Ritchie takes everything that worked about the original film and finds ways to improve upon them in this follow-up. This film broadens the scope of the story narratively and in the action present on screen. Some of the set pieces that show up here are truly breathtaking, especially an early siege on a train where Sherlock uses his fighting skills along with his intellect. The movie is careful to never make Holmes do something extremely out of character, as his mind is his greatest weapon. Ritchie fine-tunes the “Holmes Vision” to gain insight into what the character is planning before he strikes, but there is a clever twist on the format near the end of the film that is extremely satisfying. All in all, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows maintains the high standards established by the first film while upping the ante in all the best ways. Moriarty proved to be a thrilling villain, and I would not be mad to hear that the writers found some way to bring him back in the future. These Sherlock Holmes movies are a blast, and I’ll keep showing up for them as long as they keep making them.
Like its predecessor, the 4K UHD Blu-Ray of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows offers a nice uptick in overall quality in comparison to the solid accompanying Blu-Ray. The movie stylistically employs a more muted color palette, and the disc recreates the world beautifully in 4K. The black levels are especially strong throughout, staying deep and inky with great detail. When compared to Blu-Ray, the 4K version allows for way more depth, clarity and stability to the image. As with the first film, the film is intentionally grimy in its cinematography while in London, but softens somewhat when the journey takes our heroes to other settings. The image is as gorgeous as the source material will allow. The white levels are balanced with no instances of blooming to be found. The movie finds many pleasing ways to show off the High Dynamic Range. Fine facial details are easily observable during this presentation, especially with the well-manicured beard of Moriarty. This is a very natural looking transfer that gives the film a three dimensional feel that’s a marked improvement from the Blu-Ray.
This Blu-Ray comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that is extremely active and sonically pleasing. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has many great atmospheric effects that engage the surround speakers including a raucous gypsy community and the notable panning of the “Holmes Vision.” Dialogue comes through crisp and clear in the front channel without being clipped by any sound effects or score. The track has accurate directionality with sounds always coming from the appropriate channels. The movie feels even more action-packed that its predecessor, giving the low end a mighty workout at regular intervals. Hans Zimmer once again provides a stylistically appropriate score that fills the speakers with gusto. This audio presentation is most excellent even without an upgraded audio mix to go along with the video upgrade.
- Maximum Movie Mode – Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes: Robert Downey Jr. takes over for Guy Ritchie this time to take the audience on a guided journey through the film. Downey Jr. discusses the film in a picture-in-picture frame where he gives details on developing the story and characters, background on shooting sequences and more. He is his typical sly self without ever seeming bored with giving his presentation throughout the film.
- Focus Points: If you don’t have the time or the patience to watch the Maximum Movie Mode, you can get a more streamlined 35-minute distillation of that content in which the cast and crew discuss various subjects pertaining to the film including an updated use of “Holmesavison,” bringing this version of Moriarty to the screen, the relationship between Holmes and Watson, introducing Mycroft and more. There are a ton of fun tidbits in here that made me appreciate what they pulled off even more.
- Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows Movie App: Directions are given to download the movie app to access additional special features not included on the disc.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows find Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law once again providing one of the most delightful team ups on screen, while squaring off against an adversary that is truly noteworthy. Guy Ritchie surprisingly delivers a follow-up that somehow surpasses the original film ever so slightly. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided a worthwhile 4K UHD Blu-Ray with a very pleasing A/V presentation. Fans of the film should mark this one down as a pleasing upgrade. Highly Recommended
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.