Doesn’t just go one step further in restoring Ritchie’s reputation, but establishes this iteration of Holmes as one of the most exciting blockbuster franchises of its era.
After a decade in which his name became a byword for artistic lethargy and uniformity, Guy Ritchie must have been as surprised as the rest of us when his 2009 film, Sherlock Holmes, turned out to be a bit of a commercial and critical success.
The British director had been busy prepping a movie about DC Comics’ intergalactic mercenary Lobo when Warner Bros opted to fast track this sequel. But the decision (which also helped Robert Downey, Jr dodge a Cowboys and Aliens-shaped bullet), could have spelled disaster for Holmes. It doesn’t take a genius detective to know that hasty follow-ups to surprise Hollywood blockbusters rarely hit the mark.
All this makes it even more astonishing that Ritchie has triumphed again with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Make no mistake, Downey’s socially inept basketcase is even less resemblant of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character this time around, and Holmes purists will surely despise the film. It’s also riddled with toe-curling anachronisms – Dr Watson refers to his 'stag party' and calls Holmes 'Shirley No-Mates'.
But if you can look past the film’s revisionist approach, you’ll discover a riot of spectacular set-pieces, rewarding oddball performances and moments of authentic dramatic tension (mostly thanks to Jared Harris’ wicked turn as Professor Moriarty) – all romping along to an updated version of Hans Zimmer’s score.
From the opening scene – a bombing in Strasbourg, pinned on an anarchist group – the story resembles a Bond movie, only resting in London long enough for Watson to get hitched, before he's 'rescued' on the way to his Brighton honeymoon by the sleuth, and whisked-off to find adventure in France, Germany and Switzerland.
We learn that Moriarty is connected to a surge of political unrest on the continent, his shadowy dealings giving the usually unwavering Holmes cause for grave concern. That’s when he isn’t engaging in hand-to-hand combat with assailants twice his size – something that eventually becomes a tad tiresome.
Far more enthralling than the knife-fights and exploding trains encountered along the way are Holmes’ brief confrontations with Moriarty, who is given all the charm, intellect and hideousness of Blofeld. Jude Law is better utilised here than before, with the homoerotic overtones of the detective duo’s relationship brought even closer to the surface, to brilliant comic effect.
But it's Stephen Fry’s appearance as Holmes’ self-satisfied brother Mycroft that provides the biggest laughs. Only Noomi Repace’s downcast gypsy fortune-teller fails to shine, but in this love letter to male camaraderie (and who knows what else), she was never really going to get a look-in.
Ritchie makes no attempt to rein in his signature sped-up-slowed-down camera and editing tricks here, which may cause some to scoff. But instead of simply using the techniques to give the film a slick action movie feel, he integrates them into the storytelling process in a way that evokes Edgar Wright and the like. Despite a running length of a little over two hours, the film thunders along like a full-steam locomotive and offers a far more satisfying conclusion than its predecessor.
A Game of Shadows doesn’t just go one step further in restoring Ritchie’s reputation, but establishes this iteration of Holmes as one of the most exciting blockbuster franchises of its era.
Ritchie’s first take on Holmes was a blast, but will lightning strike twice?
One of the year’s most satisfying cocktails of action, comedy and drama.
How long before the party is cut short by a rushed third chapter?