Part Lethal Weapon buddy movie, part comic-strip actioner à la The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this second adventure in the 21st-century re-imagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s eccentric and unpredictable hero combines parody and pastiche to fashion a rambunctious, non-stop concoction of scraps and chases.
A (very) loose interpretation of The Final Problem in which Holmes sets out to rid the world of its crime kingpin, Professor Moriarty, A Game of Shadows focuses on the deadly chess match between these two geniuses, one decidedly bent on destruction, the other on preservation of values, morals and humanity.
Returning director Guy Ritchie retains the odd couple aesthetic, blokey banter and deep-rooted affection between his mis-matched pals, and there is some pleasure to be had in the partnership of Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson.
This second outing in what must surely become an on-going series takes Holmes and Watson on a heart-stopping race across Europe – moments of relative calm are punctuated by fights and humour. Some of the vernacular is decidedly modern but that’s the approach Ritchie took to great success with his first film. Why change a winning formula?
Jared (son of Richard) Harris makes for a formidable Moriarty, who emerges from the shadows like a megalomaniacal Bond supervillain. No jokes here; he plays it absolutely straight and steals every scene in which he appears. Then there is Colonel Sebastian Moran, imported from Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House and given a plum role as a dead-eyed sniper. Thus the melting pot of ideas is culled wholesale from the Doyle canon.
Familiar characters from the first film drift in and out of the plot. Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade gets a line or two, Rachel McAdams (as Irene Adler) opens the drama and Kelly Reilly (as Watson’s beloved) is dragged into the plot as a cipher.
So it remains a Downey/Law extravaganza. Criminally, Noomi Rapace, star of the original Stieg Larsson trilogy, is handed an underwritten role as a gipsy who tags along on the boys’ mission to save the world.
This is not a film for purists. Instead it is geared towards a youthful audience that demands bang for its buck. Sherlock 2 definitely provides that – a slo-mo sequence in an exploding forest is eye-catchingly impressive – and it looks terrific.
But there is very little in the way of story. Thus all eyes are on Downey and Law, who drag Holmes and Watson into a very different world to the one Doyle intended.