Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as Arthur Conan Doyle’s world famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, in Guy Ritchie’s Steam-punk inspired sequel, A Game of Shadows – once again reuniting a cast which included Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Eddie Marsan whilst also installing some fresh blood in the shape of Stephen Fry, Jared Harris and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace.
Following on from Ritchie’s financially successful Sherlock Holmes, we join the film’s titular hero (Downey Jr) as he comes to terms with the impending wedding of his former colleague Watson (Law). This wedding spells the end of their hugely successful detective partnership, leaving Holmes alone to deal with what appears to be a treacherous period of history, with Europe’s leading nations only moments away from full blown war and international relationships fraying under a period of escalated tension.
Behind this looming continental conflict is a criminal mastermind – none other than Sherlock’s nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Harris). Sherlock has always been renowned as one of the smartest men in the world, with a degree of intelligence unmatched by anyone thus far, however; when he encounters Moriarty it’s clear he’s found his match – a man who equals Holmes both physically and mentally but with a capacity for evil that drives him forward with a fierce will. Seemingly unstoppable, Sherlock must endeavour to prevent all out war, yet without the assistance of his reliable sidekick, he must be at his sharpest if he’s to save Victorian Britain from the devastating effects of a world war.
Guy Ritchie’s first foray into the much loved world of Sherlock Holmes was initially met with disdain, so far off the mark was its adrenaline fuelled, action packed interpretation of Doyle’s highbrow, greatly cherished literary classic, with many seeing it as little more than a homoerotic, testosterone fuelled espionage, action-thriller that just so happens to borrow the names of Doyle’s fictional creations. However, as the critical backlash subsided many viewed Sherlock Holmes for how it was intended to be received – an enjoyable piece of contemporary, throwaway entertainment. A Game of Shadows, whilst maintaining this low-brow approach to storytelling, commendably attempts to add a degree of wit and intelligence into the film’s script that its predecessor scrimped on. The inclusion of Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft adds some welcome comic relief (especially as it isn’t derived from childish jokes based on an ill-conceived bromance), whilst the addition of Holmes’ famed literary adversary creates an engrossing rivalry – indeed the scenes between Holmes and Moriarty are by far the film’s most electrifying, with both performers feeding of each other’s tight and articulate dialogue, like a meticulously choreographed ballet of prose.
Guy Ritchie has had a rather sporadic career to date, full of critically and publically acclaimed highs (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and embarrassingly ridiculed lows (Swept Away). This scattershot approach is apparent within A Game of Shadows, especially when it comes to Ritchie’s over-reliance on slow motion. When used to illustrate Holmes’ enhanced powers of perception Ritchie’s visual trickery adds a thoroughly enjoyable degree of visual panache and inserts a unique and genuinely distinctive example of directorial flare. However, his heavy reliance upon this overly stylised technique of filming is used far too often, turning almost every action sequence into an excessively long collection of intense portraits which slowly begin to lose their power and sadly dilute the film’s more dramatic moments. A frustratingly noticeable lag during the film central act, (primarily due to some sloppy script writing and a reluctant hand behind the cutting room desk) is further hampered by this fashionable approach of depicting high octane action.
All in all, Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows is an enjoyable action romp which almost makes up for its complete disregard for its source material by being a near perfect piece of escapist entertainment. Robert Downey Jr and Jared Harris excel as the film’s feuding intellects, however, for a film which flounders from an interest waning and overly cluttered runtime Noomi Rapace is surprisingly underused, especially when considering how much of the film’s is wasted on Rachel McAdam’s cameo role – seemingly inserted to add a compassionate motive to Sherlock’s quest. Regardless of the film’s numerous flaws there remain enough genuinely agreeable moments to entertain even the sourest of Doyle fans, with plenty of on-screen rapport and well thought out set pieces to become completly immersed in.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows explodes in cinemas 16th December 2011.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars:Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris
Runtime: 129 min