Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Robert Downey Jr returns as the eponymous detective in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. With Guy Ritchie again calling the shots, Holmes aided by Jude Law’s Dr Watson, goes head-to-head with his greatest foe, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris).  The unrelenting action spills from England to the continent as Holmes attempts to prevent Moriarty from fanning the flames of war between Germany and France.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - at its best when the minds meet. At cinemas from 16 December.

A busy introduction sees a cleverly disguised Holmes investigating a Strasbourg bombing, only to be lured into an ambush by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams).  This leads to the first taste of Richie’s slow-motion approach, here used to illustrate Holmes’ thought process as he assesses the best plan of attack.  The end result means success for the detective and an early exit for Adler.  Back at Holmes’ jungle-like London abode, Watson arrives in anticipation of his stag party.  After jibes over the sleuth’s mental state, the duo meet-up with Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry), whose ties to the British government will prove to be quite handy.  The ensuing night out leads Holmes to gypsy fortune-teller, Simza (Noomi Rapace, reduced to a plot device) and, after a fast-paced, far-too choppy scuffle breaks out, the scene switches to a battered Watson’s nuptials the following morning.  Meanwhile, Holmes accepts an invite to meet with the revered Professor Moriarty, where his request for Watson to be spared from the upcoming battle between the two masterminds is roundly rejected by the arrogant academic.  From there the action takes off, starting with an exciting and robustly enjoyable train sequence that is the film’s highlight, that is until its path through Paris and Germany leads to Switzerland.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to discuss Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows without mentioning the passé term “bromance”, as Ritchie’s new writing team ups the homoerotic-overtone ante.  The chemistry between Downey Jr and Law remains perfectly intact and the inclusion of Fry is a fun touch (big, surprisingly hairless chap that he is).  The fact that none of the women in the cast get a fair shake, serves to underscore the point that this film is about men who enjoy the company of men.  McAdam’s Adler is barely there; Rapace is given next to nothing to do; only Kelly Reilly manages to make a dent with her relatively respectable role as the good doctor’s wife.  Ritchie continues to make the same mistakes that addled the first go: overly dark scenes and action sequences that are poorly constructed.  His method of quick cuts renders the battles almost impossible to follow.  By the time Holmes and co are taking on the Germans with guns and artillery ablaze, (which is bogged down by Ritchie’s bout of slo-mo-Tourette’s) it feels like the film is bound to be mired in the mediocrity that enveloped the first Sherlock Holmes.  However, then something quite remarkable happens: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows gets, not just good, but great.  Once in Switzerland, it ceases to be the brainless, kick-punch, shoot’em up that renders Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and its predecessor as works that are simply inspired by the Arthur Conan Doyle books.  The final act is an actual homage to the source material and is full of well-crafted suspense and serves to pay respects to the Holmes/Moriarty rivalry.  One of the film’s greatest successes is treating Moriarty as Holmes’ equal throughout.  He outsmarts Holmes and the consequences are high (even if the after effects of a certain explosion are ridiculously sanitised).  The conclusion, utilising a double Chekhov’s gun even, is sure to put a smile on the faces of all Sherlock Holmes fans and is a truly exceptional finish to an otherwise average film.

The majority of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, though entertaining and at times clever, never rises above the bar set by the series’ first effort.  However, the final third of the film makes it all worthwhile, as the classy finish elevates Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows to a film definitely worth seeing.  However, it also serves to remind how good these characters and stories could be in the right hands.  So, for as long as Ritchie is at the helm, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is probably as good the legendary detective will get.  8/10

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About LondonFilmFan

Amateur film critic and photographer residing in sunny London.

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