To what extent can a good ending excuse what comes before it?
For much of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' two-hour runtime, the plot meanders, delivering scene after scene of Holmes and Dr. Watson bickering as things explode around them.
The film finally picks up speed in the final act. We get payoffs that have been long delayed, and actual tension is built.
Holmes, of course, follows the exploits of that most famous of detectives as he duels his archnemesis, Professor James Moriarty, against the backdrop of a Europe on the brink of war.
Your ability to tolerate the first three-quarters of the movie is dependent on how much you enjoy Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock performance. As in this movie's predecessor (simply titled Sherlock Holmes), Downey is not so much playing Holmes as interpreting Holmes through his own persona. I enjoyed his efforts here, though Holmes is a less-fitting Downey surrogate than Iron Man's Tony Stark.
Jude Law constantly looks put-upon in the largely thankless role of Watson. He's not given much to do other than be the straight man to Holmes' insanity, but in the end he proves a fitting companion to the great detective.
Jared Harris' Moriarty is the clear standout performance here, though. He ably combines the sophistication and psychosis of the Napoleon of crime. Moriarty's presence throughout the film provides a constant menace — he's often the most interesting thing about it.
As with the first Holmes movie, director Guy Ritchie uses slow-motion and rotating cameras with varying degrees of success. Although some sequences serve to illustrate the way Holmes thinks, it's often disorienting. One has to wonder if the scenes would work better if they were just shot traditionally.
Despite the special effects, the movie can really drag at times — it just feels overstuffed. Some additional editing would have done wonders — Holmes would be worlds better if it were simply more efficient.
The ending is a compelling battle of wills between Holmes and Moriarty. If you can stand the way there, you should enjoy the film.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is rated PG-13.