Following his worst creation in the form of Revolver, it seemed unlikely that director Guy Ritchie would make a great return, until he took on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective. Going back to Doyle’s source material and casting Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and John Watson, Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes was an edgy adventure romp with its Gothic setting and comic book-styled action. With the second series of BBC’s modern day-set Sherlock airing early next year, this Christmas sees Ritchie continuing his interpretation with A Game of Shadows.
As Europe is on the brink of war through mysterious circumstances, Holmes suspects the culprit is his arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), thus beginning a deadly game of cat and mouse. During his single most important case of his career of which he is accompanied with the feisty gypsy Sim (Noomi Rapace), Holmes has to come in terms with his faithful colleague Watson getting married.
Whilst the first film was a real surprise for even the biggest Guy Ritchie detractors, A Game of Shadows is one of great expectations as it is going for a larger canvas. As oppose to solving a mystery within the Gothic-influenced streets of London, the investigative duo must solve a conspiracy that will take them across Europe and stopping a professor who has the hidden agenda of starting a world war. Sounds very Bond… more like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen! However, unlike the mess that is LXG, screenwriters Michele and Kieran Mulroney manage to retain a lot of the traits from the predecessor whilst coming up with some new twists.
With a much larger plot involving the extension of the steampunk element, the sprawling epicness could have got out of hand such as the introductions of characters old and new, particularly Stephen Fry as Holmes’ smug older brother Mycroft who indeed has his humorous moments, but a certain nude sequence is perhaps a step too far. However, due to the film’s fast pace, Guy Ritchie keeps the action moving and at no point does it feel dragged down. If any moment the plot begins to slip, a big action set-piece would kick in and your jaw will drop, despite the director’s constant use of slow-motion.
The real joy of the first film, which reflects heavily in this, is the bickering relationship between Holmes and Watson, both of which Downey and Law succeed in such a funny and emotional matter. Since we’re now used to the zany and fist-fighting capabilities of the detective, Downey is still a watchable screen presence with his offbeat behaviour and numerous disguises. Presented like a Bond girl, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo herself Noomi Rapace tries her best at playing what is essentially an underwritten gypsy which is a shame, although Rachel McAdams makes a nice cameo as Irene Adler. Following Mark Strong’s vampiric villain, Jared Harris as Moriarty is far more intriguing as he is all about brains than brawn and some of the best scenes in the film are the confrontations between detective and professor.
Whilst it lacks the surprise of the first film, A Game of Shadows succeeds in a much grander scale, in terms of action, comedy and mystery. Again with a great chemistry being the centre of the story, it’ll be fine to see Holmes and Watson argue for a third time.
DIRECTOR: GUY RITCHIE
SCREENWRITERS: KIERAN MULRONEY, MICHELE MULRONEY
STARRING: ROBERT DOWNEY , JR., JUDE LAW, NOOMI RAPACE, JARED HARRIS, STEPHEN FRY, KELLY REILLY, RACHEL MCADAMS
COUNTRIES: USA, UK
RUNTIME: 128 MINS