As a fan of Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes movie, I was intrigued to see, now the foundations had been laid, just what the inevitable sequel had up its sleeve.
After all, we were returning to a set of characters who had been nicely set up in Sherlock Holmes, and could now really be ‘let loose’ on some meatier story lines and interesting plot developments. Also on the wishlist? That some of the more overt problems with the first movie (the shocking use of fast edits, drawn out fight sequences and over stylised comedy) would have been ironed out or eradicated this time around, to create a better balance within the film.
It is at this point that the lazier part of me wants to stop writing, and simply refer you to our review of the first Sherlock Holmes movie from two years ago. The reason being that many of the problems haven’t been fixed, and that’s a real frustration.
There is nothing really wrong with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, but it still suffers from the same issues as its predecessor. The first ten minutes of the film is a pre-credit sequence that forced me to throw my head into my hands.
We are treated to a small piece of exposition in a voice over from Dr Watson (Jude Law), before a sudden launch into a ludicrous fight sequence that has a needless slow motion build up, before hurtling into the same stomach churning, accelerated editing and overblown choreography.
The action only subsides momentarily for some of the most awkward and needlessly exaggerated comedy acting I have seen in a long while. As the opening credits finally began, I was already feeling pretty let down.
Within the first act of the film however, you become aware of a shining beacon of hope, and it is shaped in the form of Jared Harris. Harris plays Professor Moriarty, a criminal mastermind who is, of course, the arch nemesis of Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes. And some of the best scenes in the film are when Harris and Downey Jr are pitching against each other in a battle of wit and cunning. There is a sense of calm and concentration as the pair are simply indulging the audience in an acting masterclass, and it serves as a very welcome relief from the overblown nature of the opening scenes.
In fact, the performances of all the main cast are great pretty much throughout. Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson respectively have really developed as a pairing, and you get the sense that there truly is a deep friendship and level of understanding and respect between them, that you want to be a part of. It certainly feels like they are working more as a double act than a tutor and student, an inequality that I think was present in the first film.
Stephen Fry acts as an element of more traditional comic relief as Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, although at times he feels a little underused. Some of his scenes contain more gratuitous gags that don’t really do Fry’s brand of intelligent and subtle humour justice.
The disappointment really is that Noomi Rapace, as the fortune teller and subsequent sidekick, Sim, doesn’t have anywhere near enough to do. The part feels like it could have been played by anyone. A small glimmer of wit and tenacity from her in the first act of the film is soon replaced by the formulaic approach of ‘you wait outside’ while the main double act of Holmes and Watson get to have all the fun without her.
Fortunately as the film progresses, the real meat of the detective story gets dished out and you finally feel like you are watching an interesting, well crafted and well acted Sherlock Holmes film.
The historical references to the growing political conflict in Europe at the time, make for an interesting backdrop and allow the main action to take place over a variety of settings. This, in turn, gives the final act of the film a nice even pace, and you have soon forgotten about the haphazard chases and fighting from the previous hour.
There’s an impressive sequence as the main trio of Downey Junior, Law and Rapace are fleeing an arms factory towards the end of the film, which certainly allows Guy Ritchie to showcase his flair behind the camera. What could have been a simple chase becomes something really interesting to watch, and gives the last act of the movie a sense of momentum as it draws to its conclusion.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a good, solid film, and a lot of fun to watch. It’s just a shame that some of those main problems with the first movie haven’t been rectified.
The main issue really is that it just doesn’t feel like it is doing anything that different, or that it’s in any way moved on from the first film. Still, the detective story at its heart is strong, and really enjoyable to watch, and once the comedy elements have found a more even pace towards the latter part of the film, it’s eventually very funny.
A film to stick with, then, even if the first ten minutes or so put you off.