New on DVD/Blu-ray: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Robert Downey Jr. and Jared Harris in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Movie Image

If $500-plus million at the worldwide box office is any indication, Sherlock Holmes is alive and well and more popular than ever in 2012. Of course, it could also have something to do with Robert Downey Jr.’s interpretation of the English Detective, but who is to say, really. There are a lot of Holmes on TV and in the movies nowadays, but I think it’s safe to say that RDJ’s spin is pretty unique. If you missed Holmes and Watson’s latest adventure late last year, no worries, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is now available on Blu-ray Combo Pack or Digital Download from Warner Home Video.

Around the globe, headlines break the news: a scandal takes down an Indian cotton tycoon; a Chinese opium trader dies of an apparent overdose; bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna; the death of an American steel magnate… no one sees the connective thread between these seemingly random events—no one, that is, except the great Sherlock Holmes, who has discerned a deliberate web of death and destruction. At its center sits a singularly sinister spider: Moriarty. Holmes’ investigation into Moriarty’s plot becomes more dangerous as it leads him and Watson out of London to France, Germany and finally Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead, and moving perilously close to completing his ominous plan. If he succeeds, it will not only bring him immense wealth and power but alter the course of history.

They’re back — and more dysfunctional than ever, if that’s even possible. Turns out, yes, it is. Jude Law and RDJ reprise their roles as Watson and Holmes, respectively, in director Guy Ritchie’s follow-up to his 2010 hit “Sherlock Holmes”. This time around, the bickering crime-solving duo find themselves on the trail of the deadly Moriarty (“Mad Men’s” Jared Harris). Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the Holmes-Moriarty “relationship” knows that our brilliant English Detective will need to summon every ounce of brilliance in his body to survive this encounter, for Moriarty is essentially his criminal counterpart. A deadlier, completely without boundaries counterpart. Which is to say, dude is capable of just about anything.

The sequel finds Holmes and Watson chasing clues to Moriarty’s true motives around the world. War on a global scale is about to break out (a World War, if you will), and it’s up to Holmes to stop it. To do that, he’ll have to stop Moriarty, a college Professor who, as it turns out, has the kind of master plan that is way more generic than I had expected. Jared Harris certainly does a fine job in the role, but I dunno, I just expected his Moriarty to be up to something more, you know, grand than a motive taken straight from Stephen Norrington’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”.

Besides Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law returning, Kelly Reilly also returns as Watson’s put-upon significant other, along with Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler in what is basically a glorified cameo. Adler’s exit from the film very early on leaves room for Noomi Rapace, in her first big Hollywood movie since breaking out with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (the original one, not the Fincher remake). There isn’t any romance between Rapace’s gypsy character and either one of her two male leads, and if anything, I hardly noticed Rapace was playing a female for all the script makes use of her gender. The bromance is certainly alive and well in “A Game of Shadows”, though.

Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Noomi Rapace in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Movie Image

Lots of stuff blows up in “A Game of Shadows”, and the stakes are much higher this time around than they were in the original (it’s a Hollywood sequel, after all, so bigger, louder, and more explosions are to be expected), but it’s less clever than the first movie. Holmes and Moriarty’s duel is more physical than I had expected, but Harris is an intimidating presence. At one point, Moriarty tortures Holmes like some mindless henchmen in a “Lethal Weapon” movie. It feels like Guy Ritchie still has some affinity for the character, as do Downey Jr. and Law, who both excel in their respective roles. A hilarious supporting turn by Stephen Fry as Mycroft, Holmes’ Government big brother adds to what is an entertaining second chapter. I suspect they’ll be cracking on that third part soon enough. Besides the continuing box office success, these guys just look like they’re having way too much fun to stop now.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack comes with the film on two discs, a Blu-ray and standard DVD, plus Ultraviolet streaming option. The disc’s major special feature is its Maximum Movie Mode, with star Robert Downey Jr. Usually with these you get the director, but I guess “Sherlock Holmes” is and will always be more RDJ than Guy Ritchie, so in a way this makes perfect sense. For those who have never experienced Maximum Movie Mode, essentially RDJ introduces the feature, then continues to pop up every now and then with comments on various sequences in the movie, along with mini behind-the-scenes featurettes on the overall making of the film. If that’s not your thing, you can also watch “Focus Point” mini-docs on the making of the film, which is about 35 minutes long. And finally, for you nerd types, you can watch the movie while at the same time tinkering with the film’s free downloadable app for the Android or iPhone.

Buy “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” on DVD or Blu-ray from Warner Home Video.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Movie Blu-ray Cover