A sequel to 2009’s surprisingly successful (and enjoyable) movie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows picks up from the events of the original, where Holmes having parted ways with Watson is trying to track down “theNapoleon of crime” Moriarty and scuttle whatever nefarious plan he has. This, of course, leads to a reteam with Watson and an intercontinental chase is afoot.
After a very impressive opening scene that serves as both a refresher to the previous movie and a set-up for this one. Guy Ritchie keeps the pace rattling along and yet still lets Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law riff off each other and have fun. In a genius piece of casting, Stephen Fry plays Mycroft Holmes; who is Sherlock’s older and more intelligent and influential brother. Jared Harris clearly relishes playing the villain here and does so quite well, playing Moriarty as a ruthless yet sophisticated man. Imagine one of the Kray twins but with a genius-level intellect.
Robert Downey Jnr’s take on Holmes is that of a scatter-shot genius who cares about his friends but isn’t equipped with the tools to express that in a normal way. Played to his strengths he makes Sherlock his own and it holds up well against some of the benchmark portrayals like Jeremy Brett’s and the more recent Benedict Cumberbatch’s.
The plot is clever but not to the point of being confusing and the directors penchant for using slow motion and cranking the camera speeds always keeps us in the know. Some of the slow motion can be a bit overdone but in certain action scenes can give the viewer some startling images. The merging of the story with the prelude to the First World War was cleverly interwoven and felt organic. I also really appreciated just how grimy and lived-in the world of Sherlock Holmes is and you really feel like it’s a living, breathing world you’re looking at.
The first film was smaller in scale, in that you only really saw London and like most sequels things get bigger. Thankfully only the canvas is larger here and the characters are well rounded and are just given more to play with. One of the clever wrinkles of this particular version of Sherlock (and there are many good ones) is the steampunk technology that exists. Never outlandish enough to be anachronistic, it keeps things fresh while letting the world feel plausible.
A Game of Shadows is a sequel that manages to improve on the original and defy the bloat that can plague them. Big explosions that don’t come at the expense of story and character. For those that know the outcome of the confrontation of Holmes and Moriarty the filmmakers manage to mostly keep to the source material but tweak it just enough that you are still engaged. In fact there was a visual gag at the start that has such a good payoff at the end that you’ll be hard pressed to not leave the cinema looking forward to another adventurous romp with Holmes and Watson.