Guy Ritchie’s second outing with Conan Doyle’s finest sleuth is out on DVD and Blu-ray this week and overall it’s a thoroughly entertaining adventure romp. Fans of the first movie will find much to enjoy here and the sense of fun established in the 2009 original remains very much the order of the day this time out. Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law return in the lead roles and able support comes from Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty and Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s well-to-do brother Mycroft.
The film is set in 1891 and storm clouds are gathering across Europe as a spate of anarchist bombings threatens to push two of the continents biggest powers, Germany and France, into war. Sherlock himself is reeling from the news his partner in crime is getting married whilst at the same time trying to get to the bottom of who or what is orchestrating the bombings. He senses an esteemed Oxford Professor and long-term adversary Professor Moriarty may well be involved, an intuition that is very soon proved correct. Moriarty is embracing the advent of industrialised weaponry and plans to make a fortune out of the arms trade by forcing two great countries into a war and selling them the weaponry to fight it once they do. It’s a fiendish and diabolical plot and Jared Harris is superb as Moriarty, a cool and calculating genius rather than a typical over-the-top maniacal villain. When his and Holmes’ paths cross, he makes it clear that he will accept no meddling in his affairs.
Meanwhile, poor old Watson is meant to be relaxing into married life but unfortunately he has been deemed guilty by association and is targeted by Moriarty’s minions as he and his blushing bride try to slip off on a romantic honeymoon. Sherlock turns up just in time to safe his assistance and after throwing Watson’s bride from the train (she’s fine, trust him), leaves Watson with no choice but to join him on one last adventure. Soon enough, the two men set off across Europe to thwart Moriarty’s plans and stop Europe sliding into war.
As with the first film, the interplay between Downy Junior and Law is what really makes the movie tick. Downey Junior especially revels in the role of a charismatic adventurer who is a certifiable genius one minute and a petulant man-child the next. He and Law bounce off each other perfectly as they continue their affectionate and mildly homoerotic bromance. Both characters are also happy to throw their fists when required, this being an all-action Holmes and Watson after all. Sherlock purists may scoff at the steam-punk flourishes but it works in the context of the film. It’s definitely a Hollywoodized version of Sherlock Holmes, playing out more as an action-adventure movie than a complex mystery thriller, but it is thoroughly entertaining all the same.
It’s undoubtedly Ritchie’s best work since his Lock, Stock/Snatch heyday and his directorial quirks seem to suit the boy’s own adventure tone of these movies perfectly. The standard jaunty Irish music, colourful cockney characters and the use of slow-mo are all present and correct. In moderation the slow-mo effects can work really well and looks mightily impressive, for instance the gang’s mad dash through the woods as they escape a munitions factory with shells exploding and bullets whizzing past them, does look pretty darn cool. However the slow-mo Holmes mind-mapping shtick though does get a little overused and rather than being a neat little flourish it becomes a mild annoyance slowing down the actual action.
Stephen Fry is great as the plumy Mycroft, perfectly cast as a know-it-all clever clogs and keeping his little brother in check with a well-timed barb. As I mentioned previously, Jared Harris is on top form as Moriarty as well. The only slight let-down though is Noomi Rapace’s Simza. Don’t get me wrong, Noomi does well with what she is given, it’s just the character herself feels entirely superfluous. She has a minor role to play is driving the plot forward, but nothing that couldn’t have been worked in via other characters. It does feel like she was just thrown in there as an afterthought to fill the attractive leading lady void.
The plot builds itself up nicely and there’s tension to be mined from the fact that after already being bested by him once, you’re never entirely sure whether Sherlock will be able to defeat his rival. The two meet for a game of chess at the Reichenbach Falls (alarm bells should be sounding for aficionados of the Conan Doyle books here) at the films climax and engage in a spot of intellectual sparring. Throughout the movie the two geniuses, as well as us mere mortals at home, are never completely sure who is playing who, and sure enough, it all comes to a dramatic crescendo.
It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but in terms of enjoyable popcorn cinema, it’s perfect family fun. It’s a perfect sit back and enjoy the ride type of movie and leaves things open nicely for another sequel.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows is available on Blu-ray Triple play, DVD and digital download 14th May. Pre-order here
© 2012 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights reserved
Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace
Runtime: 129 min