A Goat that Needs Worming

Professor Moriarty wants war; it’s profitable. Set in 1892, A Game of Shadows takes place as those first embers began to burn – German realignment, French anger, rebellion. Stopping Moriarty (Jared Harris), who owns a mammoth weapons stash, only delays the inevitable. In Game of Shadows’ fictional context, he’s an agitator. More will come.

A Game of Shadows plays this intellectually. Where Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) seemed invincibly perceptive in Sherlock Holmes, the sequel sees him as fallible. He makes a mistake. People die. Moriarty outwits Holmes, and it gives this follow-up genuine tension. Suddenly, the most astute detective in this movie’s world is challenged by his superior. And it’s not a physical battle, but brainy, egotistical will.

The greatest thing A Game of Shadows does is make its title character fail

There’s still action in this story. Set historically near to war, weapons receive a boost, from cannons to machine guns. They leave greater destruction behind, put the heroes in a defensive stance, or total retreat. Like Holmes, Moriarty knows what will happen. Off-screen, he’s still a presence, devious and cutthroat as his plan plays out. The greatest thing A Game of Shadows does is make its title character fail. This isn’t a glossy, perfect movie star; Holmes screws up, he’s injured, and those bullets seem awfully close.

Being at a disadvantage raises stress levels, adding to the buddy genre’s back-and-forth between Holmes and Watson (Jude Law). Their friendship and growing (but accepted) irritation with one another provides the studio template on which A Game of Shadows is built. Downey and Law act out an entertaining camaraderie, enough to help with sagging pacing. Credit to the undervalued Noomi Rapace too, a gypsy lured into this plot, inadvertently creating an investigative trio.

Explosions and bullets wane, even with some sharp slow motion appreciating the visual possibilities. The best stuff comes twice in Game of Shadows, a pair of scenes between Downey and Harris as they slickly play one another, carefully testing wits and words in a sensationally smart tease. In the backdrop of European political unrest, that’s what these two represent, shrewd leaders unwilling to show their hand, yet cross-examining their likely opponents, hunting for advantage. Sluggish and same-y as it feels, Game of Shadows shines in wasting no minuscule detail. Viewers become Holmes because the camera lets them, even if the clues seems utterly random.

The eventual pay-off works because it’s not a fight. Both Downey and Harris hovered near 50 in 2011, so the stage is only a chess match, more metaphorical than competitive, moving soldiers around like politicians settling scores. Turns out, the war is happening, and it’s these two determining the outcome – or who profits.


Thick color grading dictates a lot of the visual power in this transfer. Notably, black levels routinely under perform as to give Game of Shadows a seedier aesthetic. Pure black is uncommon (at best), falling off into murkier gray or even deep blues, scene dependent. The whole movie is low contrast (even too dim) the best brightness coming from a few flames, primarily candlelight. Expect no HDR pop, and minimal jump over the Blu-ray.

Same with saturation, which at first brings a little vibrancy. Interiors excel at finding pasty hues, fitting to the time, while still playing with a sepia push. Soon, sepia turns dominant, shifting to blue as night falls. There’s small gain in depth from the HD presentation, if unnoticeable outside of direct comparison.

Being an upscale, the sharpness wanes a little, although there’s more firmness here than in Sherlock Holmes. Bold definition resolves excellent facial texture. Digital exteriors sell the era convincingly, added resolution only bettering that work. Black crush saps shadow details, only partially though. Encoding works the grain structure to maintain image integrity.


Porting the DTS-HD mix from the Blu-ray, a 5.1 soundstage keeps this material lively. London sounds alive when streetside, totally convincing. Major action scenes spread bullets and debris, utilizing discrete separation to put these characters in danger. It’s a consistently energetic mix.

Lackluster output happens in the low-end, unable to sustain power, even in the few moments where scale is imperative. A lighthouse collapse needs significantly deeper response. Bomb explosions rumble, if limited in their depth. Same goes for gun and cannon fire, sufficient, but unremarkable.


Everything is held on the Blu-ray, the same disc the studio previously released. Warner includes their short-lived “Maximum Movie Mode,” this one hosted by Robert Downey Jr. If you’re not willing to sit through the entire film to see featurettes (although you can skip to each section using chapter search; kudos), seven focus points on the main menu will take you to the important stuff for 35-minutes worth of content. The only other feature? An app for your phone or tablet that syncs with the movie for script comparison or other time wasters.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
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There’s fun when watching Holmes and Moriarty dialog-duel their way through conflict in Game of Shadows, the rest is routine.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 57 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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