In 1881, Germany aligned with Austria and Russia in order to isolate France and keep her from allying with England. In London, a certain sleuth has noted that several political players and industrialists can all be traced to his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris, "Sherlock Holmes," AMC's 'Mad Men'), who is sure to have a hand in these literally explosive times. On the eve of his best friend Dr. John Watson's (Jude Law) marriage to fiancee Mary (Kelly Reilly, "Sherlock Holmes," "Me and Orson Welles") the disguised detective is "Sherlock Holmes" in "A Game of Shadows."
This sequel to the 2009 film, which, oddly, takes place nine years earlier, has been heavily touted as being superior to the original. Production wise, it is. The unconvincing effects work of the original largely looks far more real, a background undulating white tile notwithstanding. New screenwriters Michele & Kieran Mulroney ("Paper Man") have also grounded this episode in real history - no pyramids and altars here - which helps to make it seem a bit more urgent. Their use of Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Final Problem,' the only story to feature Holmes's brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry, "Gosford Park," a welcome addition) and one which pits him against Moriarty, is artfully done as is the repeated metaphor of a fish on a hook.
And yet, this Sherlock begins in a muddle from which it only partially recovers. Sherlock uses Watson's bachelor party to contact fortune teller Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace, the Swedish Lisbeth Salander), a gypsy whose real place in the story only becomes known gradually and even when it does, it's hard to see how Holmes connected the dots. Sure this is subtitled "A Game of Shadows," but director Guy Ritchie ("Snatch," "Sherlock Holmes") surely isn't aiming for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" level espionage. Once we understand Moriarty's plot (he's setting himself up to control all war time commodities while also setting off explosions to expedite matters), the film becomes a lot more fun.
Holding over from the original is the wayward use of Watson's dog Gladstone, the split second physical plotting Holmes makes before execution (here, once, amusingly gone very wrong) and the disguises - here used ingeniously in opening and closing set pieces which feature Holmes appearing out of nowhere, like a chameleon changing back to its natural state. The homoerotic subtext between Holmes and Watson is shifted into higher gear, especially as Holmes spends Watson's wedding night with him - in drag. Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, "The Notebook," "Sherlock Holmes") is swapped out early for Madam Simza who seems more of her time and place than the too modern Adler. Holmes tries to get rid of Mary (for her own safety, natch), but the character won't be pushed aside and is set up nicely to be a factor going further. She has a wonderful comic scene with a completely nude Fry. Jared Harris is an OK Moriarty, but his minion, Colonel Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson, "A Lonely Place to Die"), a British sharpshooter is more interesting. Downey Jr. continues with his hyperdriven bon mots, but there is no escaping a sense he's going down the twisty path of Captain Jack Sparrow here. At least the rigging around him is more secure than the Caribbean.
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" is a bit better than the first, but despite better production values, a better story and a terrific deconstructed sequence where Holmes, Watson and Simza try to outrun bullets, a missile and falling trees, it can still be a bit of a slog. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
Robin did not see this film.
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