One need not be a master of the science of deduction to observe that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is something of an overlong, overblown, disorganized mess, despite being slightly better than its predecessor.
The film, directed by Guy Ritchie with all the subtlety of a knee to the groin, is exactly what you expect: It boasts a convoluted plot, more explosions than a Transformers movie and fisticuffs that aren’t half as exciting as Ritchie seems to think they are, especially when they’re slowed down to show us how Holmes’ meticulous mind works. On the plus side, though, the film has Robert Downey Jr. as the great detective, and his amusing bromance with his right-hand-man Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is the film’s strongest argument for consideration when you’re forking out money for movie tickets this holiday season.
In Game of Shadows — which, like the first film, starts in a way that makes you feel you walked into the theater in the middle of it — Holmes and Watson face off against nemesis James Moriarty (Jared Harris of Mad Men). The evil but professorial doctor seems to be behind a series of bombings around Europe. The newspapers blame anarchists, but Holmes, well, he just knows better. Enlisting the help of his brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) and a gypsy (the Swedish Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who really needs a little more to do here) he sets off on an investigation that will lay waste to Watson’s bachelor party and honeymoon and put everyone on the entire continent in danger.
By now, the novelty of Downey Jr.’s manic, street-fighting Holmes could have worn thin (the bordering-on-unhinged portrayal is fair enough; in his original form, the fastidious detective outfoxed Moriarty with martial arts moves, and his affection for the seven percent solution meshes nicely with the wild-eyed interpretation). But the actor, who couldn’t be uninteresting in front of a camera no matter how hard he tried, remains as mesmerizing as ever; he’s the sole reason this film series continues. His chemistry with Law has intensified to the point where you want to suggest they just get a room and be done with it. It’s a shame the screenwriters squandered an opportunity to have Watson administer mouth-to-mouth when they had the chance.
Ritchie also fares better with his action sequences this time out; one in particular, in which Watson and his new bride (Kelly Reilly) board a train for Brighton and marital bliss, ends in highly entertaining destruction that’s in perfect harmony with the movie’s wisecracking humor. The film’s finale is good, too; fans of Arthur Conan Doyle will be on high alert once they hear the words “Reichenbach Falls,” and there, in the final standoff between Holmes and Moriarty, Ritchie doesn’t disappoint. If only the same could be said for the entire movie.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams.
Director: Guy Ritchie.
Screenwriters Michele Mulroney, Kiernan Mulroney. Based on the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Producers: Dan Lin, Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram.
A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 129 minutes. Intense sequences of violence and action, some drug material. Opens Friday Dec. 16 at area theaters.