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Film / Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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"Your clock is ticking."
"If we can stop him, we shall prevent the collapse of Western civilization... No pressure."
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a 2011 British-American action mystery film directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin. It is a sequel to the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, and likewise features the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The screenplay was written by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson and were joined by Noomi Rapace as Simza, Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes and Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty.

In the film, eccentric amateur detective Holmes and his companion Watson travel across Europe with a gypsy adventuress to foil an intricate plot by their cunning nemesis, Professor Moriarty. The film follows an original premise incorporating elements of Conan Doyle's short stories "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House".

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows contains examples of:

  • Actionized Sequel: This movie spends more time on the chase and action sequences than on deduction and mystery in comparison to the first film. This is actually an accurate reflection of "The Final Problem", the canon story that A Game of Shadows is loosely based on.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Averted. Among the various actors who have played Mycroft Holmes, Stephen Fry is one of the very few who is genuinely fat, as Mycroft was described in Conan Doyle's stories.
  • Adaptation Expansion: This movie is arguably an expansion of "The Final Problem" too, as the original story had no central mystery and very little deductive sequences, and was instead concerned entirely with the Holmes/Moriarty conflict. Here, the conflict between Holmes and Moriarty still exists, but now a mystery is created for Holmes to pursue as to Moriarty's motives.
  • Affectionate Pickpocket: Sherlock steals a message meant for Moriarty from Irene Adler, who tries to steal it back while kissing him, but Holmes just grabs her hand before it reaches its target.
  • Almighty Janitor: Mycroft is indispensable to the British government even though no one knows exactly what he does.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Sherlock Holmes, who is extremely attached to Watson. He talks about their relationship, but Watson objects to the term, so Holmes calls it a "partnership." Later, they dance together. Holmes asks how Watson learned to dance like that and Watson says that Holmes taught him. Holmes also clearly has romantic feelings toward Irene Adler.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Mycroft Holmes thoughtfully explains that he can understand how a man of a particular disposition could enjoy the company of women. He's also completely unashamed to walk around naked in front of one. However, he's also a Cloudcuckoolander, so it could be that.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Moriarty makes a point of threatening Watson and Mary for no other reason than to get back at Holmes.
  • Arch-Enemy: Moriarty is Holmes' enemy, as is expected.
  • Artistic License – Geography : Sherlock locates Moriarty by making the following deduction, quoted below. What's wrong about it? About everything. There were only six mainline stations in Paris in 1891, none of which are close to the Tuileries (the nearest would be the Gare Saint Lazare). And If you would indeed have to take a train at the Gare du Nord to get to Berlin, the direct line runs approximately 300 miles north of Heilbronn.
    "So there are seven mainline railway stations in Paris. But taking 10 minutes to get to the Jardin des Tuileries (...) reduces there to one, the Gare Du Nord where he will be just in time to catch the 11:04 train to Berlin. It makes several stops along the way, one of which is...Heilbronn."
  • Attack the Injury: When Holmes and Moriarty mentally plan out how a fight between then would go, both realise that Holmes is at a significant disadvantage due to the shoulder injury Moriarty inflicted upon him earlier in the film. Moriarty mercilessly exploits the injury, gets the upper hand, and throws Sherlock off the balcony. So when the fight is about to start for real, Sherlock decides to do something a bit different.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Holmes suspects the bomb is at the opera house where Don Giovanni is playing and Moriarty is attending. Then realizes that a few clues were actually Red Herrings.
  • Avoiding the Great War: Moriarty tries to start a world war so that he could supply weapons. He mentions that, even if he's stopped, the world will still find a way. We all know how history went, so he's right.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Back again with Holmes' ability to play out a fight in his head before it begins to achieve victory. The times after the first, however, are subverted. Simza interrupts by throwing a knife at the Cossack assassin, and Sherlock goes off script from his Battle in the Center of the Mind with Moriarty by blowing ash in Moriarty's face, grabbing him, and leaping over the balcony.
  • Back for the Dead: Irene Adler only has a couple minutes of screentime before being killed off.
  • Badass Bookworm: In addition to Holmes, we have Moriarty, a Cambridge boxing champion, university professor, and diabolical mastermind.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: At the peace conference, Holmes, Watson, and their evil counterparts all qualify with their tuxedos.
  • Badass in Distress: Holmes gets captured and brutally tortured by Moriarty and has to be rescued by Watson. He's in very bad shape afterwards, but he still manages to help fight their way out. Later, it turns out that he intentionally allowed himself to be caught and tortured in order to get close enough to pickpocket the notebook containing financial details of Moriarty's criminal empire.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: Holmes and Moriarty have an Awesomeness by Analysis-off as they plan their attacks. Though the twist is that it's showing exactly how a real fist-fight would go if they went for it. They just both happen to be predicting the same sequence of events in which Moriarty wins and throws Holmes off the balcony. To avoid this, Holmes blows the ashes of his pipe into Moriarty's eyes, temporarily blinding him and giving Holmes enough time to send them both over the balcony.
  • The Big Board: Holmes has one (resembling a Room Full of Crazy) that uses red string in an attempt to draw connections between Moriarty's criminal acts. Later Holmes comes across a neater version in the Heilbronn arms factory showing what Moriarty is actually planning.
  • Bigger Stick: Moran has Watson pinned behind a covered piece of machinery, until Watson notices what it is he's behind: a massive cannon.
  • Black-Tie Infiltration: Holmes, Watson and Simza have to attend a white tie ball being held at a peace conference in order to thwart Moriarty's scheme.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: An unusually lethal use of this trope occurs when Watson shoots a Redcoat in the arm on the train, causing him to drop a primed grenade.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Simza and her brother were members of an anarchist organization before they grew too extreme.
  • Booked Full of Mooks: Irene Adler chooses to meet with Professor Moriarity for tea at her favorite restaurant, expecting he'd kill her for outliving her usefulness if they met in private. However, he reveals that he bribed everyone in the restaurant to leave at once, giving him the privacy needed to dispatch with her.
  • Bookends: Irene's handkerchief in relation to her entering and exiting the films' plots.
  • Boring, but Practical: The pony Holmes ends up with for the border crossing. Compared to the horses everybody else is riding, it's distinctly lacking in coolness. But it's easily the most efficient mount in the mountains, which is why Holmes went for it.
  • Boxing Battler: Moriarty, who is a former boxing champion.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Holmes's camouflage suit. First used so he can shoot Watson with little blow-darts. Then it's what Holmes wears to hide himself in the room where Watson is typing his manuscript of the events.
    • Moriarty makes a metaphor about him and Holmes being a fisherman and a trout during the scene where he tortures Holmes in Heilbronn, which itself is a reference to their first real conversation together during Watson's wedding, when Holmes walks in on Moriarty listening to Schubert. Holmes later reveals that he willingly let himself get tortured in an effort to pickpocket Moriarty's notebook. When Moriarty flips through the decoy notebook Holmes left, he finds a flip-book cartoon of a stick man fishing up a shark only to get eaten by it, leaving the words Be Careful What You Fish For!
  • Call-Back:
    • Holmes's use of the pipe ashes to distract Moriarty is reminiscent of his use of Irene's handkerchief in the first film to distract a boxing opponent.
    • Watson is still good at kicking down doors.
    • Holmes talked about going to see Don Giovanni in the first film.
    • The large cove in the bowler from the prison yard shows up at Holmes's funeral.
    • "Always good to see you, Watson", is a bittersweet example, especially in light of the fact that Watson is the last thing he sees. He even closes his eyes to make sure of it.
    • The Redcoat that tries to shoot Watson and Holmes immolating himself as a result of a rigged bullet in his Maxim gun (or more specifically, Holmes replacing one of the bullets with a tube of lipstick so that the gun temporarily jams long enough for Watson to shoot one of the gunners) might be a call back to how Blackwood kills Ambassador Standish by replacing one of the bullets in his revolver with a specially-rigged blank.
    • The first time we get an actual glimpse of Moriarty, he's shrouded in all-concealing shadows, like his appearances in the first film.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Watson refuses to be involved in Holmes' investigations anymore as he wants to live a happy married life. Moriarty decides to target him anyway. Holmes thwarts the attempt on Watson's life on-board the train he took on his very honeymoon, and Watson is then forced to go back in action.
  • Cane Fu: Holmes uses his umbrella to hold off a knife wielding Cossack.
  • Carrying a Cake Bomb: When Holmes, Watson and Simza are being directed to Claude Ravache's place, a cake for a reception at nearby hotel is just being wheeled out of the kitchen they travel through. Holmes later realizes that it is actually a bomb.
  • Ceiling Cling: The Cossack assassin.
  • Chekhov's Armory: Moriarty feeding the pigeons, the plants in his office, the equations on the board, Holmes's camouflage, the oxygen device, the twin Mooks, the wedding gift.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Tamas is only really established as the guy who stole and kept Watson's cool scarf, and is the only other gypsy besides Simza given any decent amount of screentime. After surviving Heilbronn, Holmes offhandedly mentions that he has an errand for him to run, and he disappears from the film from that point on. That is, until the climax, where the errand is revealed: delivering Moriarty's stolen ledger to Mary and Scotland Yard for them to decode, allowing them to seize Moriarty's entire fortune.
  • Chekhov's Skill: While describing him to Watson near the beginning, Holmes offhandedly mentions that Moriarty was the boxing champion of Cambridge.
  • The Chessmaster: Both Holmes and Moriarty, as per the norm. The climax of the film even has them playing chess outside the location of an assassination, their moves mirroring what their 'pieces' are doing inside. The game actually ends verbally, with them stating their moves aloud until one of them wins both the game and the game of wits they've been going at the entire film.
  • Chess Motifs: All over the place, especially in the Grand Finale, which consists largely of a literal chess game between Holmes and Moriarty. The game itself is based on a real life game between Bent Larson (Holmes) and Tigran Petrosian (Moriarty) in 1966 (with the colors inverted), with the pieces and moves on the board mirroring what's going on in the ballroom. The finale is changed, with Moriarty continuing past where Petrosian resigned. Even as the characters stop directly commenting on how each move mirror an in story event, it keeps happening. Holmes reveals he knows about the red book, and checks Moriarty. Moriarty fingers his pocket, realizes the book is still there, blocks the check, feeling confident he's foiled Holmes, only for Holmes to reveal he's already swapped the book, much like how on the board he's already got his pieces in position to checkmate Moriarty, who all along was powerless to stop the real checkmate. Similarly the game ends with a "discover check"note  - which mirrors the whole exchange - Moriarty was defeated before this all started, he only realized it when Holmes told him.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Moriarty has Holmes suspended by a hook in his shoulder and knocks him around while singing along to a lied of Schubert, called The Trout. Roughly translated, it's about a fisherman who tricks a trout into biting his line by muddying the waters and the fish is betrayed. The music editor was a little sadistic with his choices.
  • Cold Sniper: Sebastian Moran.
  • Complexity Addiction: Moriarty, with the means at his disposal, he probably could have killed Holmes any time he wanted. Moran could have done it without much trouble, if nothing else. He clearly wanted an opponent to make the game more interesting. He ultimately dies from it: When Sherlock goads him into a complex fistfight in their heads, he falls a third time to Sherlock feigning defeatism, this time for a simple attack comprising of a faceful of pipe embers and a grapple sending them over the ledge into the waterfalls.
  • Conspicuous in the Crowd: Watson correctly identifies an assassin disguised as a diplomat by knocking a tray of champagne glasses out of a waiter's hand, reasoning that the man will be so focused on staying in character that the one thing he won't be able to do is give a spontaneous reaction to an unexpected occurrence. He's right, as the assassin is the only person in the room who doesn't turn around to see where the noise came from.
  • Continuity Nod: As in the first film, Holmes finds himself dining alone in a hotel.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: In contrast to the Obviously Evil Lord Blackwood, who went out of his way to make himself The Dreaded and planned to openly topple parliament and declare himself ruler of the empire, Moriarty prefers the Villain with Good Publicity strategy, keeping his ties to criminal activity as discrete as possible and subtly manipulating events in his favor.
  • Coup de Grâce: In their climactic Battle in the Center of the Mind, both Holmes and Moriarty conclude that it would end with Sherlock being tossed over the balcony into the Reichenbach Falls below. In the depiction, Moriarty simply and calmly releases him after an exerted tussle to get him there.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Averted. When Holmes passes out after the shootout and running chase in the Heilbronn train yard and forest, Watson's chest compressions do not revive Holmes, so he has to use adrenaline. After Holmes is revived, he mentions that his chest really hurts. Adrenaline is what's actually used to restart a heart that's completely stopped.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Holmes seems to consider his own exceptional perception abilities to be this.
    Sim: What do you see?
    Holmes: Everything. That is my curse.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Aside from the snarkers from the first movie, Mary Morstan of all people has a few wonderfully snark-tastic moments in the sequel.
  • Deal with the Devil: The leader of the French Anarchists describes his alliance with Moriarty as this.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: Sherlock ensnares Moriarty in one in their climactic Battle in the Center of the Mind. Sherlock baits Moriarty with the "Sherlock Scan Beatdown" from the first movie, which Moriarty is quite capable of reciprocating, at which it shows how Sherlock truly would have no chance with his hobbling shoulder injury that Moriarty dealt him earlier in the movie... except the "inevitable" conclusion that they both drew did not take into account that Sherlock wasn't actually planning that, but to take both of them for a dive off the Reichenbach Falls.
  • Demoted to Extra: Inspector Lestrade gets hit by this. He may not have been one of the most central characters in the first, but he still had a decent amount of scenes and relevance to the plot. In the second movie, he is entirely left out, only briefly appearing at the end with few lines. His sergeant gets about the same amount of screentime, though he had a number of scenes in the original film as well. It's justified in that much of the movie takes place outside of London, where Lestrade operates.
  • Determinator: The Cossack goes through a hell of a lot of punishment without slowing down.
  • Didn't See That Coming:
    • Becomes an Obligatory Joke when Holmes is fighting the Cossack, who attaches a line to Holmes during their struggle. Holmes only discovers this after throwing the Cossack out the window and promptly quips to Sim, "Didn't see this in the cards, did you?" before being yanked out after him. To start the fight that even happened, he plans a very elaborate series of moves to take down the Cossack without much trouble. Except he's taken by surprise when Simza launches a few throwing knives at the Cossack three moves into Holmes's planned takedown.
    • For Holmes, there are two instances: one is being tricked by Moriarty into thinking that the bomb was the opera house where Don Giovanni was playing, only realizing he's been fooled when he sees Moriarty in a private viewing box. For Moriarty, that Holmes noticed his red notebook during the Heilbronn torture scene and snatched it from him.
    • And the finale when Moriarty doesn't take into account that Holmes was willing to sacrifice himself just to beat him.
    • Again in the finale when Sherlock has started his sacrifice and Watson steps out onto the balcony, which would have almost guaranteed Moriarty's defeat had the fight actually broken out. Holmes isn't willing to take the chance, and sacrifices himself anyway.
  • Disguised in Drag: Played for Laughs with Holmes on the train. His is done so poorly, that he doesn't seem to have even bothered to shave... though at least he is wearing lipstick.
  • Disney Death: Holmes takes Moriarty with him over the balcony, sending them both straight down into a waterfall. Holmes survives the fall. Moriarty does not.
  • Disney Villain Death: Holmes takes Moriarty with him over the balcony, sending them both straight down into a waterfall. Holmes survives the fall. Moriarty does not.
  • Double Entendre: Holmes attributes Watson's weight gain since they last met to him 'noshing on Mary's muffins', and dislikes riding horses because he doesn't like the thought of something with a mind of its own between his legs...
  • Do You Trust Me?: Mary naturally replies, "No."
    Sherlock Holmes: Well then I shall have something about that. [throws her off the train]note 
  • The Dragon: Sebastian Moran, to Moriarty.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: After making Holmes toss aside his revolver, Moran invites him to take an automatic C96 Mauser pistol and even insert a magazine. Holmes notes that the latter does make loading easier, but you'd still need to retract the bolt—Moran has his pistol cocked and aimed at Holmes' head in an instant.
    Moran: Easier done than said.
  • Dramatic Irony: Holmes notes that Moriarty can spark a world war with a lone gunman and the right target. This is exactly how World War I started.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Irene, unfortunately.
  • Dying Alone: Watson reveals one of the reasons he wants to get married so badly is to avoid this.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Invoked by a Not Quite Dead Sherlock. He sneaks into the room where Watson is typing the story of their adventure and types a question mark after "THE END" in Watson's manuscript.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Moriarty's "dismissal" of Irene Adler from his services.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Watson apparently, as Holmes has him send a telegram. He must have learned it in the service.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: Watson is so drunk arriving at the wedding that Holmes has to signal the bagpipe players to start playing in order to wake him up.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: This is the deciding factor in the 'duel' between Holmes and Moriarty at the end; Moriarty thinks, like Holmes, that he is guaranteed to win the fight because of Holmes' injury, but he fails to take into account the idea of Holmes sacrificing himself to kill Moriarty. Holmes even explicitly says that he'd be willing to do a Heroic Sacrifice if it completely assured Moriarty's destruction as well, and Moriarty still doesn't factor it in.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • Moriarty to Holmes, with a mind to match his, fighting skills to the same, and he's even capable of the same Sherlock Scan Holmes uses to defeat opponents.
    • Moran is an Evil Counterpart to Watson. They're both reliable, competent, neat sidekicks, former military men (who fought in the same war), and they are both excellent marksmen. They both have a remarkable amount of devotion to Moriarty and Holmes, respectively.
  • Exactly What I Aimed At: Holmes chastises Watson for not taking the opportunity to shoot the redcoat who's keeping them pinned down with machine gun fire when his gun jams, not realising that the mook Watson shot instead was carrying a primed grenade — which he has now lost track of.
  • Exact Words: Rene's letter includes a sketched self-portrait and urges Sim to memorize his face, because she will never see it again. Much later, it's revealed that Rene has undergone Magic Plastic Surgery in order to impersonate one of the delegates at the peace conference.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: "Perhaps you've heard of me. My name is Sherlock Ho_(bomb goes off) Ho-Holmes." Steps outside vault to find his would-be client has done a bunk.
  • Fair Play Whodunit: One clue is given to us, but not for Holmes. In a nutshell, Moriarty is going to see Don Giovanni, but at the book signing, pay attention to the dialogue between him and Moran: he apologetically tells Moran that he won't need his ticket, to which Moran says, "It's a shame. I was looking forward to Don Giovanni." We see Moran backstage at the play later, getting up when Holmes, Watson and Simza come in. He is holding what looks like a concealed rifle. Turns out he isn't seeing the play not because he'll be backstage, but because he'll be on the rooftop to shoot a firearms factory owner who is attending a business dinner at a hotel across the plaza. Other clues and plot points, such as the key to the encoding of Moriarty's notebook, and Holmes' first attempt to pickpocket it from him while disguised as the valet, are also displayed for our benefit well before they pay off.
  • False Flag Operation: How Moriarty puts France and Germany on the brink of war.
  • Fan Disservice:
  • Faux Affably Evil: Moriarty. He drops the act entirely during the interrogation scene.
  • Fiery Cover-Up: Meinhard's murder midway through the film. We see Holmes, Watson and Simza reach the banquet room moments after the bomb goes off and kills a group of assembled businessmen. But as he looks at the corpses, Holmes looks at Alfred Meinhard's and notices that he has what looks like a bullet wound in his head. He then looks up and notices a bullet hole in the glass, allowing the three to pinpoint the location of the shooter's perch. Naturally, they focus on the shooting victim rather than the collateral victims of the bomb. This bomb does two things: one, to hide that there was a shooting and only one intended victim; and two, to make it look like the work of anarchists.
  • Fighting Fingerprint: The Improbable Aiming Skills Moran demonstrates during the Meinhard assassination plays a key role in Holmes and Watson figuring out who he is. First off, he took the shot using a tripod and shooting stick, finally setting it up with 600-650 yards between him and his target, in a 7-8 mph wind. Watson ascertains that he needed a wind gauge, while Holmes finds the remains of a cigarette with a certain blend that was popular with British soldiers that served in Afghanistan.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The camera gives us a really nice view of Reichenbach Falls in the establishing shot of the castle just before the climax of the movie. Anyone familiar with Holmes mythology knows where they were headed.
    • Mycroft makes a quick mention of a peace summit at Reichenbach very early on in the film, right before Watson's stag party.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Holmes first officially meets Moriarty, he mentions that if it one-hundred percent assured Moriarty's destruction, he would gladly accept his own. He follows this through to the extreme at the end when he does a suicide leap off a cliff and takes Moriarty with him.
      • Before that, when showing Watson his web of conspiracy, Holmes told him he'd give his life to see Moriarty's demise.
    • Even as early as the battle with the Cossack, where Sherlock's strategy to defeat him is completely interrupted by Simza. This was a hint that the final duel between Moriarty and Holmes wouldn't play out quite as they'd imagined it would.
    • Also, the fate of the Parisian bomb-maker, who commits suicide in an attempt to save his loved ones from Moriarty.
    • The wax figure of Holmes may be this for the potential sequel — in "The Adventure of the Empty House" he used one as a bait for Moran.
    • The first time Holmes goes to meet with Moriarty, Moriarty is listening to "The Trout" by Schubert, which Holmes recognizes and quotes a line from. The same tune is played again with greater significance and symbolism the next time the two meet face-to-face.
    • Viewers may spot that Holmes’ deduction that the bomb is at the opera is wrong well before Holmes himself. Moran is shown bringing two Don Giovanni tickets to Professor Moriarty, only to be told that he (Moran) won’t be needing his. Why would Moriarty be attending an opera where his bomb was set to go off?
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • During the opening scene with Irene, Moriarty's bodyguard escorts can be seen casually walking by in the background of multiple shots before Holmes points them out.
    • When Holmes and Watson enter Simza's gypsy camp searching for her, Simza herself can be seen hidden amongst the crowd of gypsies behind Holmes, just out of focus, warily watching them until Holmes explains that it is about her brother, upon which she reveals herself.
    • Pay close attention: when Moriarty first joins Holmes on the balcony, Holmes is taking a puff on Mycroft's oxygen device. He quickly palms it, distracts Moriarty by having him set up their chess game, and then slips it back into his pocket.
  • From Bad to Worse: Near the end of the film, while Holmes and Moriarty fight in their minds, Holmes starts by noting that Moriarty has a serious advantage from Holmes' disabled arm. Shortly thereafter, he thinks something we have never hear him say the like of in any fight in the two films: "Arsenal running dry." Moriarty "kills" him seconds later. He is both physically and mentally incapable of beating Moriarty in hand-to-hand, and they both know Moriarty's going to try to kill him... except that wasn't Sherlock's real plan.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: The way the final fight plays out is almost entirely determined by the fact that Holmes is still recovering from having a meat hook stabbed through his shoulder, and Moriarty has zero qualms about exploiting it.
  • Genius Bruiser: Moriarty was a boxing champion at Cambridge. His fighting style is very aggressive, described by Sherlock as "feral, but experienced".
  • Genre Blindness: Irene, despite knowing very well that Moriarty doesn't like to leave loose ends, still works for him and knows that he'd kill her the moment he let her go. The point where this comes in is that while she's savvy enough to ask for a different pot of tea when she sees one setting at the table (and, equally importantly, is smart enough to also get a new cup), she doesn't think twice about the second pot. Or simply not drinking tea. Or eating anything at the table.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • Midway through the movie, when Holmes, Watson, Simza and the gypsies are preparing to travel to Heilbronn:
      Simza: [showing Holmes and Watson their horses, to Watson] The black one is yours. The grey one is mine. [to Holmes] And this is for you.
      Holmes: [clears his throat, uncertain] Ah, hm, right! Where are the wagons?
      Simza: The wagon is too slow. Can’t you ride?
      Watson: [grimaces] It’s not that he can’t ride... How is it you put it, Holmes?
      Holmes: They're dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle. Why would I want anything with a mind of its own bobbing about between my legs? Then I should require a bicycle, thank you very much. It’s 1891! Could have chartered a balloon! [He stalks off; Watson turns to Sim]
      Watson: How can we make this more manageable?
      [cuts to the group riding their horses through the woods, followed a few seconds later by Holmes - who is trotting on a little pony!]
      Holmes: Where's the fire?
    • There's also one earlier in the film when Holmes warns Watson against dancing with the gypsies, saying, "You know what happens when you dance." Cuts to Watson doing a particularly unusual jig with Simza as Holmes looks on and downs a bottle of hooch.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: While Simza and Watson try to stop the threat at the peace summit, Holmes and Moriarty play a round of blitz chess, although they also talk aloud about the more real-life version of it they're playing with the participants and events inside.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Moriarty has a more standard boxing style compared to Holmes' esoteric fighting skills. Holmes describes it as "feral", due to the fact that Moriarty was a bit out of practice at the beginning of the fight, but still good enough to get the job done, as Holmes was crippled and on the mend while Moriarty was fresh and unscathed. As the fight wears on, the trope is subverted when Moriarty unveils his own Bartitsu moves and his punches gains more precision and calculation, prompting Holmes to say "Ah, there's Cambridge's Boxing Champion!"
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Ravache puts the gun to his head and kills himself, the moment he pulls the trigger to blow his head off, the scene immediately cuts to the patrons of the tavern upstairs reacting to the sound of the shot. Everyone then goes to grab their weapons and heads to the stairs to investigate the noise. Obviously, seeing his brains splatter everywhere would be too gory, but the shocked look on Simza's face compensates.
  • GPS Evidence: When looking at some letters that Simza's brother Rene has sent her, Holmes and Watson notice that they are of the stock used by a printing press, and are musty, as if stored in a damp place. A wine stain on one of the sheets allows Holmes to conclude that they were from a wine cellar near a printing press, which is how they locate the anarchist leader Claude Ravache. Less egregious than most examples, however. The only deduction Holmes and Watson make is reasonable but non-specific. They then simply ask Sim if their deduction means anything to her, and she immediately points to the anarchists and Ravache.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Holmes steals handfuls of rice and beans from a market stall, and later throws them in the face of Moriarty's thugs during the fight in the pre-credits sequence. Later still, when he faces down Moriarty, he blows a cloud of tobacco ash into his face.
  • Handwriting as Characterization: The first time Sherlock Holmes meets Professor Moriarty, he asks for an autograph, then conducts an on-the-spot graphological analysis:
    Holmes: The upward strokes on the 'p', the 'j', the 'm', indicate a genius level intellect, while the flourishes in the lower zone denote a highly creative, yet meticulous nature... but if one observers the overall slant and the pressure of the writing, there's suggestion of acute narcissism, a complete lack of empathy, and a pronounced inclination toward-
    Moriarty: No.
    Holmes: Moral insanity.
  • Heel–Face Turn: A very minor example. Although you wouldn't call her an enemy, Mary is most definitely not a member of Holmes' fan club in the first film, nor at the start of second film (being thrown off a bridge by him, only to be rescued by his brother who has a penchant for nudism doesn't help either). But by the end of the film she trusts Holmes enough to follow his instructions re: Moriarty's vault, effectively becoming his agent.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Holmes. Knowing he can't beat Moriarty in a straight fight due to his crippled arm, he takes a third option and chooses to take Moriarty with him. Perhaps cannier members of the audience knew how that one was going to end, but what matters is that Holmes thought he was going to die.
  • He's Just Hiding: An in-universe example by the end with Holmes, literally.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • According to Holmes, Moriarty was behind the Mayerling incident, in which an heir to the throne of Austria Hungary apparently murdered his mistress, then killed himself. Since the incident first occurred, and its reference on Holmes's conspiracy web, there have been multiple alternate theories advanced, including that the two were murdered as part of a plot to cause a European War.
    • Mycroft with regards to the automobile. "In the future there will be one of those machines in every town in Europe."
  • Hit Them in the Pocketbook: Sherlock Holmes reveals to his arch-nemesis James Moriarty, that while he he was being tortured at Moriarty's weapon and munitions factory in Germany, he stole Moriarty's pocketbook detailing his operations and finances and had it sent to London, where it was deciphered and the information passed along by Mary to Inspector Lestrade, who seized all of Moriarty's fortune, which would be donated to charities which benefit widows and orphans of war.
  • Homage Shot: The grapple hold Holmes uses to throw himself and Moriarty off the balcony is an arm triangle, a move from jujitsu (and, intuitively, Bartitsu)... and also the same exact way illustrator Sidney Paget drew Holmes restricting Moriarty in the scene of their falling in "The Adventure of the Empty House".
  • Home Nudist: Mycroft Holmes plays host to the newlywed Mrs. Watson au naturel, which appears to be his customary state of existence while at home, judging by the behavior of his servants.
  • How Dare You Die on Me!: Watson to Holmes while on the wagon train upon escaping Heilbronn.
  • I Call It "Vera": "Time to introduce Little Hansel", an artillery cannon. Believe it or not, it's a real cannon that dates back to that era. Officially, it's a L/12 42-cm Type M-Gerät 14 Kurze Marine-Kanone, but most people just called it "Big Bertha".
  • I Have Your Wife:
    • Moriarty uses this to force Claude Ravache, the leader of the anarchists to follow his orders, which apparently, as part of Moriarty's "no loose ends" deal, include the bit where he shoots himself in the head upon finishing his job and getting questioned by Holmes. However, just as well, Moriarty probably has had Ravache's family killed.
    • Watson gets involved in the plot because of this. Holmes tells Moriarty that Watson is not part of the game, Moriarty announces his plans to kill Watson and Mary anyway. It is averted, however, in that Moriarty expects Holmes to rescue Mary and John, it is one of many diversions Moriarty uses to keep Holmes, the only man who could stop him, busy.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Subverted. The gun battle in the factory turns into this due to the impractically short ranges, plenty of metallic objects for cover and miserable visibility, but while in the open, only Holmes, Watson, Simza, and one other gypsy get away (albeit with Watson being grazed by Moran and Holmes having his bad arm) while the rest of the Gypsies are mowed down like bowling pins.
  • Improvised Weapon: Holmes is as ever the Combat Pragmatist, but his throwing a rooster at a knife-wielding Cossack is surely worthy of mention.
  • Indy Ploy: At their final confrontation, both Holmes and Moriarty mentally predict how their battle will end, with both concluding that Moriarty will be the winner. Holmes then takes the next best plan and throws the both of them off the cliff. However, subverted in the end when it is revealed that Holmes had prepared for that possibility.
  • Involuntary Charity Donation: The assets seized from Moriarty by the police are used to make an anonymous donation to the Widows and Orphans of War fund. Because Moriarty is The Sociopath, he doesn't have any person he cares about. But Holmes directing the authorities to seize his war chest? That stabs Moriarty as badly as his killing Irene did to Sherlock. The donation recipient is just the final insult of the deed by Sherlock.
  • It's Personal:
    • In their first face to face meeting, Moriarty reveals he killed Irene and Watson is next. Holmes goes from being almost giddy about his rivalry with Moriarty to being much more withdrawn, showing some Tranquil Fury, and decides that Moriarty needs to be stopped. No matter the cost.
    • There's really no one that Holmes could hurt that would get under Moriarty's skin, seeing that he's a sociopath (and Holmes doesn't seem like the type to do something that underhanded). However, there is something that, if lost, would set Moriarty off: his ill-begotten war fortunes. Which is exactly what Holmes deprives him of.
  • Just Between You and Me
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Holmes and Moriarty each pull one on each other.
    • Moriarty fools Holmes into thinking that an assassination target will be in the Paris opera house because of a secret passage connecting it to the headquarters of a known anarchist group who were in Moriarty's power. In reality, the opera is a misdirection and the real target is a nearby hotel.
    • For most of the film, Holmes is running around trying to foil Moriarty's assassination plots with limited success. Moriarty tells him in the end it will do no good because he has already won by owning all the capital which will be used to fuel an inevitable world war and make him rich. Holmes reveals that he already accomplished his real goal of securing the code book Moriarty used to keep track of all his assets and thus confiscate them. He also had the much simpler plan of killing Moriarty to take him out of the picture after bankrupting him because the law couldn't touch him.
  • Karma Houdini: Moran slips away after killing Sim's brother. This is consistent with "The Final Problem", as Moran still being at large was the main reason Holmes had to fake his death.
  • Kill and Replace: How Moriarty plans to smuggle an assassin into the peace conference.
  • Killed Off for Real: Irene and Moriarty.
    • There is a fan theory that Irene is not actually dead as we only have Moriarty's account of it. Though this would take a bit of a logical leap.
  • Lancer vs. Dragon: Colonel Sebastian Moran is The Dragon to Moriarty and is an Evil Counterpart to Dr Watson who is Holmes' lancer. Both fight with a cane and both are military veterans. The two have a Sniper Duel in Heilbronn which Watson wins by using a howitzer cannon. Later, Watson wounds Moran with a shot from a rifle.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Moriarty tells Holmes, "Let's not waste any more of each other's time. We both know how this ends." As do any viewers who have read "The Final Problem."
  • Le Parkour: The Cossack assassin uses agility to chase and fight Holmes and Simza. Real Cossacks, even today, are good at acrobatics.
  • Made of Iron: Sebastian Moran. Despite being shot in the side and having a building dropped on him he walks away just fine.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: Sim's brother is made to look like one of the ambassadors as part of the peace summit plot. The "magic" part is averted, though, in that when trying to identify him, Sim and Watson look for exactly the sort of telltale clues that this trope usually ignores, such as the scars that he has to hide. It also probably helps that the guest list uses sketched portraits, not photographs, so Renee's disguise doesn't have to be a perfect replication.
  • Mauve Shirt: Of the party of gypsies that accompany Holmes, Watson and Simza to Moriarty's factory in Heilbronn, only Tamas is given any sort of characterisation, as the guy who stole Watson's scarf. Though he has little few lines and little screentime, he is immediately identifiable because of the scarf, and eventually is allowed to keep it by Watson. As such, he is the only gypsy besides Simza to survive the escape from the factory, and becomes a crucial element to Holmes' plan to undermine Moriarty's entire fortune by delivering his stolen ledger to Mary, allowing her to decode it.
  • More Dakka: Including a Gatling gun and an early LMG.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: The Cossack, the acrobatic Determinator assassin.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Mycroft apparently has a habit of wandering around his home stark naked. He has a cheerful conversation with a mortified Mary when she runs into him like this, while his servants, who obviously are used to this, don't even bat an eye when they come in to serve breakfast.
  • Neat Freak: Mycroft is implied to be this. Doesn't like to shake hands, barely goes anywhere other than his home and office, carries a personal supply of oxygen... even his habit of walking around his house naked could be a reference to OCD sufferer Howard Hughes, and / or the biopic, The Aviator.
  • Neutral Female: Averted. When Watson pins an assassin, Mary makes sure to grab his gun and hold it against his head.
  • Never Found the Body: Holmes and Moriarty. In the case of Holmes, he is revealed to be alive at the end of the film.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Happens during Holmes and Simza's fight with the Cossack, when Simza pushes a pipe into the assassin causing him to fall out a window. She is unaware that there is a rope on the end of the pipe attached to Holmes's belt, and as a result, Holmes is pulled out the window a few seconds later. Similarly, Simza putting several throwing knives into him (for which he wore a protective undershirt) before Holmes can carry out his planned takedown forces Holmes to think on the fly when the Cossack recovers, ultimately making the whole fight a lot more drawn out and dangerous than it had to be.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: When Holmes, Watson, and Simza are trapped in the weapons factory, the guards try to take them out with an artillery cannon. However, they only succeed in blowing a hole in the wall that was keeping the trio inside, allowing them to escape into the forest. Had they closed in with small arms, they would have won.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Even though it never actually takes place except in Holmes' and Moriarty's minds, the final confrontation definitely qualifies. It's not so much a fistfight as an excuse for Moriarty to repeatedly and brutally whale on Holmes' wounded shoulder.
  • Not So Stoic: Moriarty during his chilling torture of Holmes. He's clearly enjoying it.
    • Holmes himself, during the same scene. Seeing the guy who has kept an almost-perfect poker face over the course of two movies - in the face of physical punishment, worry that he's losing his best friend to marriage, Watson almost being blown up by Blackwood's booby trap, the news of Irene's murder being sprung on him, Moriarty's threats toward Watson and Mary, Ravache putting a gun to his own head and pulling the trigger right in front of them, and carnage from a bombing that he could have prevented - break down and howl in agony while Moriarty tortures him is incredibly disturbing.
      • Actually, Holmes may have been playing this up a bit; he clearly possesses enough presence of mind to secretly switch out the red ledger, and he may have been acting in an effort to get Moriarty to think he was hurt worse than he really was. Appearing weak is a common feint.
      • There wasn't much need to play it up, considering his heart stops not long afterwards. The not-so-stoic moment just makes his presence of mind that much more impressive.
  • No Sympathy Between Mooks: A set of flat-cap wearing twins are Moriarty's main two enforcers besides Moran, frequently seen following the latter's orders throughout the film, and both are killed consecutively during the escape from Heilbronn. However, after the first twin is shot down, the second twin callously shoves his fallen "brother" aside to get a better shot before being killed himself instead of going to his aid. It is this apparent lack of even basic sibling loyalty that tips Holmes and Watson off to the fact that they're not actually twins, but a surgical experiment aimed to make one man resemble another.
  • Obfuscating Postmortem Wounds: Moriarity's plot to launch a War for Fun and Profit involves having a sniper kill a prominent German arms mogul at a Franco-German peace conference, then having Bomb-Throwing Anarchists blow up the conference moments later. This is to cover up the targeted killing, since nobody (except Sherlock Holmes, of course) would look for a bullet hole in a bombing.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Moran's reaction when Watson reveals he's been hiding behind a giant cannon aimed directly at his perch is a rather hilarious "That's not fair!"
      • Shortly before Watson has one when he holds up his cap to the small gap between the gun's barrel and shield, only for Moran to instantly put a bullet through it.
    • Moriarty when he realizes that Holmes spotted (and subsequently replaced) his little red ledger book with one that is a zoetrope that says, Be Careful What You Fish For!
    • Moriarty has this kind of reaction when Holmes asks, "Does The Art of Domestic Horticulture mean anything to you?" and we see that Moriarty also neglects to care for the plants in his windowsill.
    • Watson has one when his winnings get scattered across the floor due to Holmes and Simza's fight with the Cossack interrupting them and he realizes he's surrounded by a bunch of opportunistic gamblers.
      Watson: Now wait a minute. [cue an all-out brawl]
    • Watson has another when he knocks out the head gypsy for taking his scarf, to look around him and see a whole bunch of knife carrying angry gypsies.
    • The assassin on the train who gets shot by Watson has just enough time to realize that he can't find the primed grenade he dropped in the satchel full of them and look at his comrade before the whole thing blows up and the train breaks in half.
    • Irene has a very subtle one when she realizes Moriarty hired everyone in the restaurant they were meeting in, and makes them leave on a code signal, meaning their public meeting is actually a lot more private than she expected.
    • Watson gets one after hearing the usually nigh-omniscient Holmes utter the words "I was mistaken."
    • One for the audience members who have read the original stories when Mycroft casually mentions going to a summit at Reichenbach early in the movie. Yeah, this isn't going to end well.
    • Another for the audience occurs after the "two-pronged" chess match between Holmes and Moriarty. After Moriarty threatens that he'll endeavour to find the most creative of endings for Watson and Mary after he deals with him, Sherlock begins to analyse the upcoming fight between him and his adversary. While he takes his injury into account, the predictions progress as normal. Until, that is, Moriarty's voice enters the fray.
      Moriarty: Come, now. Do you really think you're the only one who can play this game?
    • Holmes realizing how insane Moriarty is, when he impales him with a hook and proceeds to twist it around while singing to an operatic piece.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Moran got shot in the side, yet seems pretty fine just a few days later when he kills Rene at the peace conference.
    • Just about every wound in the film is brushed off, up to and including having a building collapsed on you - but Holmes's shoulder wound takes a serious toll on him, for plot reasons.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • According to Watson, it takes a very serious crisis to make Mycroft Holmes miss an appointment at the Diogenes Club, especially when his favorite dish, potted shrimp, is on the menu that night.
    • Cool-headed Irene Adler is visibly struggling to control her fear when she realises Moriarty has outmaneuvered her at the restaurant.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: After being separated during the train sequence, Mary is understandably confused when Watson sends her a letter saying he doesn't miss her and hopes to never see her again. Mycroft tells her the truth can be found from a code that he and Sherlock devised as children, wherein a notice would be taken at face value or as the complete opposite depending on if the first letter of the note was a consonant (face value) or a vowel (opposite); in this case, Watson's letter is of course the complete opposite of what he means. The letter of course, has been coded this way just in case someone affiliated with Moriarty or his criminal organization happens to intercept it.
  • Out of Focus: While he was never really a central character to begin with, Inspector Lestrade is almost entirely absent in this movie. The only time we see him at all is at the very end of the movie, and even then, he's only briefly seen a couple of times with almost no lines.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Even Holmes has to agree that dressing up (poorly) as a woman for the train fight is not his best disguise, but he had to make do with what little time he had to prepare.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Sim and her brother after he collapses from Moran's poisoned dart.
  • Poisoned Drink Drop: Irene Adler has tea in her favorite restaurant, but is confronted by Professor Moriarty, who just had his plans thwarted by Sherlock Holmes. He admits he doesn't blame her for the plan's failure but also dismisses her from his employ. Adler, who had just had a few sips from a cup of poisoned tea hastily departs, but not before collapsing and pulling down a table setting offscreen, which crashes in the process.
  • Politically Correct History:
    • Holmes and Watson share a dance together and get nothing more than a few odd looks in an age where homosexuality was illegal.
      • To be fair at the time, two male friends sharing a dance would be considered more akin to a joke than a statement of their sexuality. It's only because it's now legal, and quite often encouraged, that we attribute any sign of affection or companionship as a sign of this.
    • Mycroft's casual nudity in front of Mary, something which the servants are so accustomed to that they don't bat an eye, is a lot more shocking when you consider just how much more strict Victorian England was about nudity and proper behavior around women.
  • Prochronic Product: Sherlock Holmes invented an adrenaline autoinjector in 1891, about 10 years before adrenaline was discovered in real life and 92 years before autoinjectors became widely available.
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • Irene reasonably expects that she might suffer a sudden case of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness when meeting with Moriarty. She meets him in a crowded restaurant and has her drink switched for a fresh pot. She wasn't paranoid enough, though, because Moriarty had the entire restaurant in his pocket. Including someone involved with that second pot.
    • When Watson and Mary depart for the honeymoon (the first time), Watson is clearly suspicious of being ambushed after seeing soldiers loading equipment onto the train. They do indeed turn out to be Moriarty's henchmen.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Moriarty is blue. He lives in the dry, respected worlds of academia, politics and business. His servants are Germans. Holmes, on the other hand, is manic, full of energy, always experimenting and improvising, and spends his time getting into hijinks. He allies himself with a pack of unruly Romani, although that's because Simza's brother has ties to Moriarty.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The car Holmes uses (and the great false beard that he wears) is 'so overt it's covert', especially when Holmes thinks Moriarty has men watching him.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Moriarty blows up a room full of people to cover up the assassination of an important businessman.
  • Run or Die: After saving Holmes and escaping the tower, Holmes, Watson and the gypsies are forced to flee on foot from the train yard with Moran and his men hot on their heels. Gets worse when when they pull out a heavy siege cannon to fire on them.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Irene. She is built up to be an extremely intelligent and capable opponent for Holmes in the first movie, bordering on his equal. The second film shows how easily Moriarty has her killed, so her death serves to establish Moriarty as a credible threat (and possibly a superior opponent) to Holmes.
  • Scry vs. Scry: Holmes's usual Bullet Time battle analysis monologue is interrupted by Moriarty, who is also capable of this and counters his moves to the point of proving Holmes couldn't win a straight fight. Of course, Holmes doesn't fight fair. He fights smart.
  • Secretly Wealthy: Mycroft, in the canon (The Bruce-Partington Plans), is said to be a relatively low-ranking official, drawing a salary of 450 pounds per yearnote  and too lazy to seek high public positions. In this film, he owns a majestic country house. One so secretly placed it's the ideal hiding place for Mary.
  • Self Stitching: There's a brief shot of Watson stitching up his own side after a particularly harrowing chase scene.
  • Sequel Adaptation Iconic Villain: While the first movie featured a Canon Foreigner as antagonist, this movie's Big Bad is the Sherlock Holmes-franchise's Breakout Villain, Sherlock's Evil Counterpart Professor James Moriaty.
  • Sequel Hook: While Moriarty dies in the end by means of the famous Reichenbach Falls fight and his plan is unsuccessful, Moran—who was immensely loyal to him and enraged when he almost got killed before—is shown to have escaped and still be at large. Also, the world has yet to know Holmes survived the fall himself and given he only hints at that to Watson rather than outright reveals himself to him, he may want to keep it that way for the time being.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Moriarty's primary plan is to try and start World War I. As Moriarty lampshades (and the audience is well aware), Holmes has embarked on a futile endeavor: war will come, whether on Moriarty's schedule, or of its own accord. Oddly enough, the first World War did not start between France and Germany, although they played a larger role in the second one.
    • However, as Moriarty soon learns, stopping the war is not Holmes' objective. His objective is to foil Moriarty, and he quite thoroughly accomplishes that.
  • Shoe Phone: Moran has a poison dart gun concealed inside his walking-stick, which he uses when he needs to quietly kill someone in public or a crowded place, as first shown when he uses it to kill Dr. Hoffmanstahl after Holmes thwarts the explosion that was originally intended to be used to kill him.
    • Rather appropriate for Watson's foil - Watson himself has a sword hidden in his walking-stick.
  • Shot to the Heart: Holmes invents an epi-pen. Watson later uses it to revive him after his heart stops from blood loss.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Moriarty plans to start World War I and profit off weapons sales, much like the expy of Moriarty.
    • Mycroft's (and Sherlock's) oxygen device is basically a steampunk version of the James Bond rebreather gadget from Thunderball, continuing the long fanon tradition of him being the head of British Intelligence (an idea that has in some cases gone as far as to saying he is the originator of the position of M.)
    • The final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty plays out very similarly to a scene in Hero (2002): They have a Battle in the Center of the Mind, with both of them using Awesomeness by Analysis to calculate each other's strategies and the most likely outcome of the fight, similar to how Nameless and Long Sky 'fought' each other.
    • Watson uses an adrenaline shot to revive Holmes after his heart stops, reminiscent of Uma Thurman overdosing and getting revived in Pulp Fiction in the same way.
    • Moriarty's torture of choice is hanging by hooks through the chest.
    • Watson quotes Henry V: "Once more unto the breach."
    • Morricone's theme from Two Mules for Sister Sara plays when Holmes is riding the pony.
  • Skyward Scream: A variant is done by Sim, after her poisoned brother dies in her arms.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Holmes and Moriarty play a game, the winning gambit echoing the events happening elsewhere that the two have set in motion. They finish up the game without the board entirely, just talking to each other, and Holmes wins, foreshadowing the way they'll fight in their minds.
  • Smokescreen Crime: Professor Moriarty arranges for a group of anarchists to bomb the conference room at a peace summit in Paris, as a diversion from the sniper he employed to shoot one of the VIPs at the conference immediately before the explosion.
  • The Sociopath / Narcissist: Moriarty, much to his chagrin.
  • Soft Water: Falling hundreds of feet into a lake will not break your fall. At terminal velocity, hitting water would be only slightly better than hitting concrete. However, the water tension is broken by the waterfall; riding the stream down would severely soften the landing of moving water.
    • Holmes might have maneuvered Moriarty into hitting the water first.
    • Played straighter during the train scene. Regardless of how "perfectly timed" it was, Mary came out remarkably unscathed for someone who feel at least fifty feet into a river out of a speeding train.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Moriarty plays (and sings along with) a cheery, innocuous little Schubert tune while dangling Holmes from the ceiling by a meat hook impaled in his shoulder. "Die Forelle" may never be quite the same.
  • Spotting the Thread: Moriarty's final plot is revealed to hinge around henchmen and assassins surgically modified to convincingly resemble other people. The henchmen seen in question are a set of unnamed "twins" and Simza's brother Rene, both of whom are exposed by very subtle details.
    • The twins are exposed as not actually being twins during the escape from Heilbronn. Holmes and Watson gun down one of the twins, only for the other coming up behind to callously shove his "brother's" corpse aside. The action, though quick, is enough to cause both Holmes and Watson to pause, and later it is the smoking gun to Holmes' revelation that they were not actually brothers.
    • Rene is surgically disguised as one of the ambassadors attending the Reichenbach peace summit, and attempts to spot him conventionally fail as Rene's disguise and performance are nigh-impeccable. Watson, however, manages to expose him by suddenly knocking over a plate of wineglasses - the other ambassadors all turn in surprise, but as Holmes explains, Rene's performance was too perfect; he was too consumed with his own performance that he could not adapt to sudden and spontaneous events, and he is the only ambassador to not react whatsoever.
      Holmes: So perhaps it's the opposite. A failure to behave naturally. An actor so consumed with his performance that the only characteristic he cannot accommodate... is spontaneous reaction.
  • Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: Regarding Moriarty's red notebook.
  • Straight Edge Evil: After telling an associate that he plans to indulge in his "vice" for a while, Moriarty is shown... feeding pigeons from a park bench.
  • String Theory: Holmes constructs a massive string spider-web in Watson's old rooms, with the various threads wrapped around a nail stuck into a photo of Professor Moriarty.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Irene Adler is killed off before the opening titles to make it clear how dangerous Moriarty is.
  • Surgical Impersonation: A key element of Moriarty's plot is revealed to be the use of assassins surgically modified to resemble other people, courtesy of Dr Hoffmanstahl, a master surgeon under Moriarty's employ. Moriarty's "twin" henchmen are revealed to be an early experiment into this, and his final plot centres around causing an international incident by disguising his assassin Rene as an ambassador via surgery.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • What happens when you put Irene up against a guy who is about as smart as Holmes, but with no moral compunctions or feelings for her? He outwits and kills her. That's it.
    • Once he has conclusive evidence that Moriarty is a criminal, Holmes simply has the police freeze Moriarty's assets, cutting off the momentum of his Evil Plan at the ankles.
    • The final fight between Holmes and Moriarty starts off with a Sherlock Scan fight plan, handily exploiting Moriarty's rage over having his entire empire undone... only to be interrupted by Moriarty doing the very same thing. And Holmes realizes it. "Come now. You really think you're the only one who can play this game?" Both come to the same conclusion, with Moriarty mercilessly whaling on Sherlock's injured shoulder despite Sherlock's best efforts to counter, and eventually tossing him over into the waterfall below. "Unless..."
      • The fight itself is what you'd expect to happen if someone with a heavy handicap went up against a ruthless boxing champion. Holmes had absolutely no chance in a straight fight and it didn't take long until he and Moriarty realized this very fact.
      • Neither man foresaw Watson stepping outside, which would've greatly improved Holmes' chances. Holmes still decides to take the near-certain odds of Taking You with Me rather than risk Watson. Similarly, Moriarty didn't consider the idea that Holmes would sacrifice himself, on account of being a sociopath.
  • Swiss Bank Account: Heavily implied to be where Moriarty hides his many assets. He claims that he's rather fond of Switzerland, since they know how to respect a man's privacy there, especially when he has a large personal fortune.
  • Take a Third Option: Holmes realizes that if he directly fights Moriarty, he'll lose, and he can't escape. Cue blowing soot in his face and invoking Taking You with Me.
  • Taking You with Me: To be expected considering the final battle.
  • Tarot Troubles: Holmes takes Sim's Tarot deck and deals out a few cards to go along with his summation of her current predicament before naming his own goal with one final card: The Devil, Moriarty.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: When Holmes, Watson and Simza flee Moriarty's armed Mooks. Armed with machine guns, that is. Then the cannons come out.
    • Moriarty arranges a bombing in a banquet hall at the Hotel de Triomphe to conceal the fact that Alfred Meinhard, the head of an arms factory, was in fact shot in the head by Colonel Moran on a rooftop on the other side of the square at the precise moment of the blast. This serves to disguise the true perpetrator of the attack while ensuring the target is definitely killed.
  • Throw-Away Guns: Holmes tucks an extra Mauser Broomhandle into his vest in the arms factory. Justified as his shoulder has been severely injured so he doesn't have two hands to reload with.
  • Title Drop: Sorta:
    Holmes: Has all my instruction been for naught? You still read the official statement and believe it. It's a game, dear man, a shadowy game.
    • Translations of the movie to some other languages (like Spanish, for example) turn the above quote into a more direct Title Drop.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Irene gets dangerously close to this in the opening. Despite Holmes hinting that her package is a bomb, she sits there and lets the doctor open it with only the slightest bit of trepidation (she did try to leave immediately, but he asked her to stay). Unless she was expecting Holmes to drop in, this is a serious lapse in judgement for an otherwise very clever woman.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Irene's handkerchief, given to him as a dog kicking by Moriarty. Subverted in that Holmes sees it as a distraction (possibly Moriarty's intent in giving it to him) and disposes of it so it can't haunt him.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The "woman" on the train is Holmes.
  • Tranquil Fury:
    • Moriarty is in this state throughout the chess match.
    • Holmes as well. Particularly evident when Moriarty says he'll go after Watson and Mary merely for sport.
  • The Triple: Another way that Watson and Holmes trade barbs.
    Holmes: We're playing cat and mouse, the Professor and I. Cloak and Dagger.
    Watson: I thought it was spider and fly. [notes that Holmes is drinking formaldehyde]
  • Understatement: When Moriarty sends thugs to kill Watson and Mary as they travel to Brighton for their honeymoon, Holmes attempts to empathise by describing the situation as "terribly inconvenient." It doesn't quite do their predicament justice.
  • The Unfettered: Moriarty at his core is a genius on the level of Holmes, yet completely lacking in ethics or morals of any kind. He will do anything to achieve his goals and he only allows Holmes to live because he respects him as a fellow genius and doesn't foresee Holmes being a large enough threat to his plans. When Holmes proves otherwise, Moriarty does not hesitate to go after everyone Holmes cares about and makes repeated attempts to kill him, too.
  • Unit Confusion: The 6-8 miles per hour side-wind in which Moran makes his famous shot. That wind speed would barely move the air, let alone a bullet. The conditions portrayed in the flashback and which would make the shot the nigh-superhuman feat it is described as are far more in line with a 6-8 feet per second wind speed (which is between 4 and 5 1/2 miles per hour).
  • Villain Has a Point: Moriarty's Hannibal Lecture about how World War I was inevitable. All he was doing was finding a way to profit off it.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Moriarty has a subtle one when he realizes that Holmes has stolen his ledger, decoded it, and used it to dismantle his whole organization. It progresses to a much more direct example as Moriarty screams his brains out as he plummets to his demise, unlike the composed Holmes. Admittedly he has just had burning embers thrown in his eyes so they could be screams of pain.
  • Villainous Friendship: Colonel Moran and Professor Moriarty. Although Moran is referred to as a gun-for-hire, he is very loyal - at one point he vows to kill the heroes after digging Moriarty out of the wreckage of a building - and the two of them have plans to go to the opera together.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Moriarty going to see Don Giovanni, and later feeding pigeons in the park.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Officially, Holmes can't touch Moriarty since he's a world famous mathematician and author, is a personal friend of the English Prime Minister, and has many business and political connections. A great deal of the plot is Holmes trying to obtain the necessary evidence to implicate him. (Ironically, these are often some of the benefits Holmes himself enjoys.)
  • War for Fun and Profit: The foundation of Moriarty's plot. It's actually exactly the same as his plan in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
  • War Is Hell: The chase sequence in Germany seems to evoke this trope, giving a taste of what Moriarty's new weapons would do to Europe.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: Holmes being interrogated by Moriarty.
  • Wham Line: Just before their final confrontation, Holmes starts in with his usual analysis, imagining how the imminent fistfight with Moriarty will go with an internal monologue. At first it looks like Holmes has predicted a method of beating Moriarty before we cut to the man himself and we hear his internal monologue that reveals he is just as capable of the technique as Sherlock is.
    Moriarty: Come now. You really think you're the only one who can play this game?
    • Immediately, Moriarty begins to gain the upper hand in the imagined conversation between the two men as the fight plays out in both their heads. He even uses a Bartitsu move to reach Holmes's wound, demonstrating he also knows his "game".
    Moriarty: Let's not waste any more of each other's time. We both know how this ends...
    (Moriarty concludes the mentally-predicted fight by tossing Sherlock over the ledge and gently letting go)
    • And then Sherlock shows that he was expecting this all along and duking it out was never his real plan...
    Sherlock: Conclusion: inevitable. Unless...
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Colonel Moran shoots Rene with a curare dart, then leaves the party. As far as the viewer knows, he gets away. Instead, he is saved as a Sequel Hook.
    • Also the Cossack, to the point of bordering Big Lipped Aligator Moment.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Holmes, to get in the train. (The original script had him as a priest, as in the original short story, but Downey Jr. asked to change for crossdressing as it was funnier. He also might have been referencing to a Holmes story in which he mentions disguising himself as an old lady.)
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Moriarty could have avoided so many troubles if he had just had someone (like Colonel Moran) kill Holmes any number of times before their "game" began in earnest. Moriarty himself admits to this, stating that he didn't directly have Holmes dealt with because he considered him a peer.
    Moriarty: My respect for you, Mr. Holmes, is the only reason you're still alive.
  • Wicked Cultured: Moriarty takes this trope to its logical extreme, torturing Holmes while listening to and singing along with Schubert on a phonograph. Moran also says he really wanted to see Don Giovanni himself.
    • Even the Mooks get in on it, whistling Mozart of all things while ganging up on Holmes in a back alley.
  • The Worf Effect: Irene Adler dies by Moriarty's hand to show how dangerous he is and to up the stakes with Holmes.
  • Worf Had the Flu: In Sherlock's final fight against Moriarty, he deduces in his Sherlock Scan "pre-fight" that after a good opening attack he would lose because of his injured shoulder from earlier in the movie. This causes him to Take a Third Option.
  • Worthy Opponent: Holmes and Moriarty both emphasize the deep respect they have for each other.
    • However its inverted - Holmes himself admits we would be quite happy to beat him.
  • Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: A variation; Moriarty tells Holmes the police believe Irene Adler died from a rare strain of tuberculosis, but Holmes is reading between the lines and deduces that Moriarty arranged for her to be poisoned.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Moriarty made the mistake of thinking that Holmes was trying to stop his plans to ignite a world war. As it turns out, Holmes is working against Moriarty, and ONLY him. He knows that he can't stop the plans that Moriarty has set in motion, merely prevent Moriarty from profiting from them, so that's exactly what he does. He doesn't stop the plan, but he does stop his nemesis.
  • You Have Failed Me: Moran invokes this when warning German officer commanding Little Hansel's crew. However, even though the good guys escape, we never see what befalls the officer. He plays it straight during the climax when he shoots Rene with a poisoned dart after he's prevented from killing the German ambassador, then leaves.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Moriarty will generally kill anyone who's no longer useful to him.
    • The film opens when he tries to blow up Dr. Hoffmanstahl; Holmes prevents the bomb from reaching Hoffmanstahl, but Moran is waiting outside and poisons the doctor.
    • He poisons Irene Adler after deciding that she's succumbed to her feelings for Holmes.
    • Halfway through the film, he has Alfred Meinhard shot in the head by Moran, disguising the assassination with a bombing.

The End?


Video Example(s):


Holmes and Moriarty

In their first meeting, Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty remain perfectly civil, even conversational with each other - despite the fact that Sherlock knows that Moriarty is a criminal mastermind and Moriarty knows that Sherlock is trying to bring him down. However, the two make it abundantly clear that the next confrontation won't be so friendly...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / NonviolentInitialConfrontation

Media sources: