When presented with a range of unfamiliar food, the safest bet for delicious will be snagging whatever's stuffed with something else.
Stuffed mushrooms. Stuffed peppers. Stuffed turkey. Turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken. All of these things are great and if you disagree you should be stuffed into a beef chest and basted to perfection. My million-dollar idea for a restaurant is to tamp down a cannon with the first course, then fire it directly into the second. I could charge $200 a plate and it would still be worth it. Hire a first-rate cannoneer for that kind of money.
This concept doesn't translate as well to stories. Blasting a barrel-load of subplots into your main story usually just results in a mess, and not the delicious kind, because words are inedible, you dummy. "Stuff it till it bursts" seems to have been the guiding ideal to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and as usual, the result is far less satisfying than it could have been.
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It's the close of the 19th century and France and Germany have been pushed to the brink of war by a string of anarchist bombings. Sherlock Holmes (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) thinks someone else is behind the attacks: fiendish criminal Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris).
A meet with Moriarty confirms Holmes' suspicions. After Moriarty attempts to kill Watson (Jude Law) and his new bride, Watson joins the hunt, an investigation that will take him and Holmes across Continental Europe.
A Game of Shadows is a busy movie. Turn your back on it and it will file its taxes and build you a house. You've got public spaces being blown up, old men being poisoned, Downey building himself an indoor jungle for really no reason at all, then killing and reviving Law's dog because that is a reference to the first movie, in that it did the exact same thing. And this is all in the first few minutes! Want to know why Hollywood is so creatively bankrupt they've actually made Battleship: The Movie? And why it's just a matter of time before we see Whatever's Sitting Around Jerry Bruckheimer's Garage Comes to Life as Killer Robots?? Because A Game of Shadows greedily stole up all the plots to deploy in one big booming flick.
It steals up especially hard from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels it most resembles. I mean, not so much with the pirate ships and tropical seas. More in terms of the brilliant eccentrics gallivanting around the world and getting into wonderfully choreographed skirmishes every ten minutes, fueled by hard liquor, derring-do, and their own scruffy handsomeness.
In fact, my Pirates-sequel comparison is so apt I can probably just retire from this whole business right now. Ahh. This is the life. Oh right, I'm starving. In that case, let me continue by saying the comparison isn't meant to be all that flattering. A Game of Shadows is fast-paced, gorgeous, and a lot of fun to watch in the moment.
Out of the moment, however, it's a different story. They cleaned house with the writing staff for the sequel, but I think they knocked down some load-bearing walls in the process. The first half of the movie is a bit hard to follow while the second half is too easy. If you shake me hard enough, you can hear my head rattle like a can of spray paint. I shouldn't be figuring out the scope of the evil plan before Sherlock damn Holmes does. Meanwhile, the verbal sparring between Downey and Law is more of a sloppy pillowfight than a rapier duel, right down to the very likely chance they'll make out at any moment.
The whole thing feels notably less inspired than the original. While A Game of Shadow's action setpieces are a blast, it isn't nearly witty enough to overcome a straining plot that's more manic and overreaching than an evil genius' scheme.