Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (12A/PG-13, 128 mins)
Director: Guy Ritchie
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Surprising for all the right reasons, 2009’s Sherlock Holmes brought Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth to a whole new generation of fans, and cemented the comeback of Robert Downey Jr. as a smooth-talking, all-brawling Holmes.
It was more than enough of a financial success to beget this sequel, one that more or less replicates the first movie in terms of spotty and sporadic enjoyment to accompany its storytelling inadequacies.
But the big news here is the appearance of Professor James Moriarty, arch-enemy to Holmes, who was merely seen in shadows in the first film. Played with a cool detachment by Jared Harris, it’s the scheme of the so-called Napoleon of Crime that drives a convoluted plot.
Set in 1891, there’s anarchy across Europe, and a series of bombings that Holmes, consulting detective, martial arts expert and amateur alchemist, is trying to get to the bottom of. Rachel McAdams pops up ever so briefly, reprising her role as the treacherous Irene Adler, working for Moriarty not entirely of her own choice.
But she’s soon replaced by the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Swede Noomi Rapace, given a rather thankless role as a fortune teller roped into the whole business thanks to the involvement of her brother with Moriarty’s plans.
It’s here the film takes a bit of time to settle into its main story, rounding up all the supporting players including Stephen Fry, who puts in an appearance, essentially as Stephen Fry, playing Holmes’ brother Mycroft.
There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of logic or flow to the mechanics of the plot, more a sense that certain characters need to be in a certain place, and then the next sequence can begin. The result is disorganised, yet consistently fun enough almost to overlook the weaknesses.
Holmes soon has his first brief meeting with Moriarty, one which provides a promise of great machinations to come, so it’s a shame they only have a couple more opportunities to play their intellectual chess game that ultimately becomes a literal one.
Holmes thrives on having a nemesis in Moriarty worthy of him and their scenes together are when they're both at their most interesting, when the game is afoot. Moriarty is seemingly always a step ahead, with an early reference to Reichenbach Falls tipping off Holmes fans as to where it all might be heading.
The rest is robust fights that too often descend into shootouts, but with so much fisticuffs and gunplay it leaves little time for any real sleuthing, surely the driving force behind why Holmes exists at all. Still, the meticulous pre-planning of everything that will transpire when he’s about to pull off one of his ingenious plans is still something to marvel at.
Also worth marvelling at is a level of production value that amazingly makes this look even better than the already gorgeous first movie did, albeit a shade darker and grimier. Though it’s a shame almost all of it takes place outside of London, it remains firmly rooted in a late Victorian aesthetic, yet with a modern sheen that steers clear of steam-punk anachronism.
It’s not disappointing then by most standards, just likely to leave a nagging sense that it could, and should, all be so much better.