By Marty Mulrooney
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a sequel to the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, once again directed by Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson respectively. The bickering detective duo must join forces once more, this time to bring down their most cunning adversary yet, the formidable Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, Mad Men).
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a far more confident film than its predecessor. The recreated 1890s London is now a backdrop rather than a distraction, with the characters dictating the story rather than being dictated by it. The on-screen chemistry between Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson is still the main draw, but it’s nice to have a reasonably engaging story to go along with the action and quips.
Whilst Watson has been absent due to his impending marriage, Holmes has been investigating a series of murders, terrorist attacks, and business acquisitions that all trace back to Moriarty – he even foils an assassination attempt in the opening scenes which sees Irene Adler (once again played by Rachel McAdams) stuck directly in the middle. Adler pays a dear price for this failure and Moriarty makes it clear to Holmes that this initial retaliation is only the beginning – he will kill Watson and his future wife if investigations continue.
Jared Harris was superb as the somewhat awkward Lane Pryce in the television show Mad Men. Here he is formidable, any previous awkwardness entirely forgotten. It is quite remarkable to see an actor so well known for a relatively meek character become such a force of nature – Professor Moriarty was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a supervillain and Harris lives up to this title admirably. You can tell that the role is being relished – Mark Strong was great as Lord Blackwood in the previous film, but Harris as Moriarty is simply excellent.
The story itself works quite well, with some genuine detective work taking place between the action sequences. You may not always follow the infinitesimal little details in Holmes’ plans, but you will always believe that he himself does. The action is well directed and certainly serves to quicken the pulse, although Holmes’ highly specific fighting technique from the first film is used a few too many times and a slow motion run through the woods at roughly the midway point feels entirely out of place. Disappointingly, accomplished Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) plays a gypsy named Simza and is completely wasted – Irene Adler she is not. On the other hand, Stephen Fry is simply delightful in a cameo as Holmes’ brother, Mycroft Holmes.
As with the previous film, the main reason to see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is for the wordplay and acting between Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law – a sequence onboard a moving train with Downey, Jr. in drag is hilarious, made even more so by Law’s reactions. Yet this time, there is added incentive to watch – the scenes with Holmes and Moriarty are equally compelling for far darker reasons. The final showdown is tremendous and the film as a whole is a step up from the first film. It’s still an action movie at heart, but this time the plot and characters are strong enough to support the weaker moments.
8 OUT OF 10