In a nutshell: Not bad, but not as good as the first.
Popcorn rating: 3.5/5
Okay, here goes, I’m just going to say it. I quite like Guy Ritchie’s work. I mean, he’s no Martin Scorcese, no Paul Thomas Anderson, but his films are kind of fun. Usually. Sure, sometimes they’re clichéd, a bit too much of the old Cockney gangster. And 2002’s Swept Away? Well, I’d happily see it swept away into the Dungeon of Heinous Movies, never to be released. But generally, you know, I kind of like a Guy Ritchie movie. Lock, Stock; Snatch, Rock’n’Rolla and, yip, Sherlock Holmes. They’re kinda good. Even if it’s not cool to say so.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect back in 2009, when I heard that Ritchie had reinvented Holmes with Hollywood wild child Robert Downey Junior as the eponymous hero and pretty boy Jude Law as avuncular sidekick Dr Watson. I did know, however, that I wasn’t expecting much so it was a pleasant surprise when Ritchie’s first Holmes outing proved to be a good, old, rip roaring adventure set in a picture perfect imagining of Victorian London. It was fun, it was engaging and it was action packed, something I had never quite associated with the Deerstalker sporting sleuth of old. Even the Downey Jr/Law pairing worked well with Downey suitably wild eyed and sizzlingly smart and Law giving us a new, more military and less chubby take on the beloved sidekick (as is fitting and correct).
Hollywood’s mantra for sequels has always been ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and Ritchie, up to a point, has followed this with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – another contemporary take on the classic. Holmes and Watson are back, bickering and battling and beating the bad guys by sheer force of intellect. Lots of old faces return too, Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), Watson’s beloved fiancée, Mary (Kelly Reilly) and even Gladstone the dog. And, as with the first, the sets show off a wonderful, smoky, industrial London on the rise as a world power. Importantly, Ritchie has also retained that smattering of humour which made the first film so light hearted, amidst all that dry detective work.
There are a few welcome changes too. This time the plot takes the duo dashing across Europe (why do sequels always take their characters abroad?) in the fight against Holmes’ greatest nemesis – Professor James Moriarty (played with sheer relish by Jared Harris). Other notable new faces include Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s big bro Mycroft and Noomi Rapace as Madame Simza, a gypsy woman searching for her missing brother. Oh, and the scene where our ragtag group are running through the forest is a new touch and exceptionally well done, a beautiful piece of cinema.
Sadly, not everything works as well as it should. Holmes thinking out each fight beforehand, an interesting addition in the first film, proves monotonous this time around. There are a also few glaring plot holes and omissions which niggle a bit. In fact, the overall story is unnecessarily convoluted for what turns out to be quite a simple plot, by Moriarty, to make some bucks. There is also an air of Ritchie trying to shove a little too much into the film, showing off just because he can. Fry is perfectly cast as Mycroft, for example, but he doesn’t seem particularly necessary. Similarly, Holmes’ new camouflage technique is neither humorous nor believable.
All in all, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows isn’t a masterpiece, nor is it as good as the first film. It is, however, a harmless bit of fun, a picturesque “romp”, if you will, and joy of joys, the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” continues to be absent (in keeping with the original texts). Cut a good 20 minutes off A Game of Shadows and it’d be a tighter, better movie, but it has already made enough at the Box Office to ensure a third film is likely and that’s no bad thing. So long as it doesn’t turn out to be another Pirates of the Caribbean style turkey.