There’s a telling moment on the newly released DVD of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Not in the movie itself, or even in the special features—just on the DVD. Before the menu loads for the newest Guy Ritchie slugfest, a trailer runs for an altogether different Sherlock Holmes project: the BBC’s hit series “Sherlock.” It’s probably the worst official trailer for “Sherlock” ever made; it casts Steven Moffat’s crackling 21st-century adaptation as a plodding, low-budget hack job when it really isn’t, and it strings together some of the least exciting moments of the series with dull music and middling review quotes.
It’s as if A Game of Shadows is wary of its lower-profile competitor, as if it feels threatened by the small hordes of admittedly ardent “Sherlock” fans, who have recently taken to plastering public spaces with posters saying “I believe in Sherlock Holmes.” (The DVD release of “Sherlock’s” second season, incidentally, contains an excellent trailer for A Game of Shadows.) See, the disc seems to say you don’t need to be watching the fusty old BBC version when there’s a good old high-octane punch-’em-up take on the literary legend right here at your fingertips.
All of which is weird, because Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has nothing to be self-conscious about.
A Game of Shadows
is about as close as anyone’s ever going to get to a perfect Sherlock Holmes story in the Guy Ritchie style. It’s got everything: Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliant, damaged Holmes; Jude Law’s romantic, sarcastic and brutally efficient Watson; a magnificently cast Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) as the scheming criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty; and the charming Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) as a mysterious gypsy fortune-teller who holds the key to the whole affair. There are explosions. There are fight scenes. There are strange disguises and elaborate sets and plenty of Holmes-Watson gay jokes. Stephen Fry does a delightful turn as Sherlock Holmes’ even more brilliant brother, Mycroft, and his nude scene might not even be the funniest scene he does. Honestly, this movie has no need to defend its honor. It’s already a cracking good time.
The plot is standard Ritchie-Holmes: Professor Moriarty is trying to set off a world war so he can sell arms and supplies to the various factions, so it’s up to Holmes to kidnap Watson from his honeymoon (Kelly Reilly returns from the previous film and improves her take on Mary Morstan as a fine match for the good doctor) and drag him halfway across Europe in pursuit of the villain. There are stops along the way for anarchist bombings, a munitions factory, a little light torture and Watson’s bachelor party. The story is loosely adapted from “The Final Problem,” the short story that (spoiler alert!) killed Holmes off in 1893, but with more sex and stuff blowing up.
The minor weaknesses in the first Ritchie outing, 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, have been eliminated. Holmes and Watson are established as characters, so their relationship clicks away from the moment they first share the screen. Harris’ Moriarty makes a better and more complex villain than Lord Blackwood did in the first film, and the mystery itself is more complicated and challenging than the first movie could provide. The only downside is Rachel McAdams’ all-too-brief return as Irene Adler; she’s shuffled offstage in the first reel as motivation for Holmes, and Downey suffers a little in her absence. Still, you can’t have everything.
The single-disc DVD with UltraViolet digital copy (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, MSRP: $28.98) has a small but healthy set of special features—three, to be exact. There’s a much-needed featurette on the much-discussed Holmes-Watson bromance (including some delightful Downey in-character ad libs that serve as a gag reel) and one on Moriarty’s “master plan,” which actually turns out to be about the use of chess in the film. (Surprise—the smart bad guy plays chess. Duh.) Finally, there’s a featurette on “Holmesavision on Steroids,” focusing on how the second movie changes the nature of Holmes’ slow-motion premonitions during fight scenes. The audio and subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. All in all, not a bad little disc, even with the “Sherlock” snub.
The two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with UltraViolet digital copy (MSRP: $35.99) adds to the package a “Maximum Movie Mode”—basically a video commentary by Downey, with all the snark you’d expect from that. There are also four extra “Focus Points” (a.k.a. featurettes) on the more international flavor of this Holmes outing, the portrayal of gypsies in the film, etc. Most of the truly special features, however, require a mobile device and the synced-up A Game of Shadows app. The app offers behind-the-scenes video, script comparisons, maps and character bios, among other features. The Blu-ray also adds Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese and Thai to its collection of subtitles, as well as a Thai audio track.
Fans of “Sherlock” will be irked by the lousy trailer and likely bored by the extended action sequences, but for the millions who thrilled to Ritchie’s sexed-up, highly explosive take on the master detective, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows delivers everything they love and more. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might be spinning in his grave, but Ritchie fans will be glued to their seats.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.