Much to the dismay of Conan Doyle purists and the surprise of everyone else, Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes proved to be a surprisingly entertaining romp. Now Robert Downey Jr’s manic, mischievous, unexpectedly kick-ass hero is back for a sequel that is bigger, brasher, but not necessarily better.
A Game of Shadows is even more knockabout and irreverent than its predecessor, but those offbeat touches that seemed charmingly quirky first time around are now in danger of turning irritating. And Downey Jr’s dandyish Holmes is largely to blame. Overly indulged by director Ritchie, he spends so much time prancing around in a variety of disguises in the film’s first half that it’s a wonder the plot ever gets going.
When all the cross-dressing campery slackens off, however, the story turns out to be a straightforward adventure quest revolving around Holmes’s efforts to thwart his criminal nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who is scheming to propel Europe into war through a wave of bombings and assassinations across the continent.
First, though, Holmes manages to derange the wedding plans of Jude Law’s long-suffering Doctor Watson, sabotaging his stag night and interrupting his honeymoon, the latter rapidly turning into a furious shootout aboard a speeding train. With Mrs Watson (Kelly Reilly) safely out of the way, Holmes and Watson can get on with unravelling Moriarty’s conspiracy. Accompanied by a gypsy fortune-teller (original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace) whose anarchist brother is entangled in the criminal plot, the duo hop from London to Paris, and then on to Germany, before fetching up at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland for a showdown inspired by Conan Doyle’s ‘The Final Problem’.
Along the way, Ritchie stages the action with rumbustious vigour, giving Downey Jr’s Bond-like Holmes the chance to deploy as much brawn as brain. He does combine the two, though, in nifty sequences that show him plotting his moves in his mind’s-eye before he unleashes his strategies in swift flurries of action – a device effectively carried over from the first film.
But Downey Jr isn’t the whole show. Law has his moments as Holmes’s put-upon, bromantic partner and Harris supplies quietly sinister, understated villainy as the detective’s evil adversary. Rapace, in her first English-speaking role, doesn’t get much to do, but Stephen Fry makes a bigger impression as Holmes’s smarter brother, Mycroft, though that’s partly because he spends almost half his screen time naked (naughty bits artfully masked), looking for all the world as if he’s wandered in from a photo shoot for a naturist calendar.
If that mental image makes you recoil in horror, you’ll probably want to give these proceedings a wide berth; but if the notion of Downey Jr and co going gleefully over the top holds no fear, then you should find A Game of Shadows rollicking good fun.
On general release from Friday 16th December 2011.