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Review - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

15 Dec 2011
The world's greatest detective gets a lacklustre sequel
It’s 1891, Europe is poised on the brink of War and renowned detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is convinced the man responsible is no other than Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), his greatest nemesis. Together with his long suffering partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law) Holmes must track his quarry across Europe as the investigation becomes ever more complex.

2009’s Sherlock Holmes was a throwaway piece of entertainment, feeling almost like a prologue – a film that might make for a decent sequel. Sadly, A Game of Shadows squanders most of that good will.

It is, in a word, boring. While I found the quirkiness of the first film irksome, this second outing all but removes the fun aspects of the Holmes character and replaces them with… nothing. At the start of this story he is out of sorts, drained by his pursuit of Moriarty and lacking any real vitality.

The film even forgoes much of the chemistry built up between Law and Downey Jr. – with the pair rarely falling into a bicker-heavy back and forth. It’s all tied into the fact that Watson has recently married and while the plot goes out of its way to remove Mrs Watson (Kelly Reilly) from proceedings, no doubt aiming for the pally camaraderie of yesteryear, it often falls flat.

The story whisks us around Europe on the trail of Moriarty but it’s never clear exactly why we’re visiting these places. That’s the problem with the central character – his intellect means he’s always ten steps ahead of the audience, leaving us waiting for explanations - helpless, clueless and unengaged.

At least director Guy Ritchie has upped his game in the action stakes – delivering some solid set pieces which expand on Holmes’ unique vision of the world. A free running, knife fight is a highlight and the much trailered train sequence is fun, even if the mechanics of the action are under explained. The explosion filled near finale is certainly visually exciting, showing the path of each bullet and shell in super slow motion, but the desaturated images do become overpoweringly dreary at times.

Downey Jr. gets the accent near perfect this time around but just doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself. The darker story and increased action leaves little enough time for quips or condescending analysis but he still lands a few laughs. Law is watchable and steadfast as Watson while Harris looks and sounds more like his father (screen legend Richard Harris) with each passing year, lending some gravitas to Moriarty. Though I still would have liked to see Brad Pitt’s take on the character. Rachel McAdams barely features and Noomi (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) Rapace is a poor replacement. Her face lacks expression and the fast paced dialogue seems to mostly pass her by.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a disappointment – dreary, rarely funny and at least 20 minutes too long. There’s a strong cast here and Ritchie certainly has a flair for solid set pieces but an oddly passive villain and a subdued Holmes makes for some dull viewing indeed. At least it’s not in 3D.