Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

For some reason, the unutterably dull and hackneyed Sherlock Holmes did quite well when it was released in 2009 – so well, in fact, that its sequel A Game of Shadows was fast-tracked by Warner Bros. The glorious Robert Downey Jr had to abandon Cowboys & Aliens to jump aboard, whilst Guy ‘Seriously, are people still employing me? WOWZER’ Ritchie had to abandon precisely fuck all because he’s a ghastly director. Anyway, the sequel’s happened and it’s not as shit as it could have been.

The year is 1891, and Europe is in crisis. A series of catastrophic bombings have been blamed on everyone from the Germans (prescient) to the anarchists (equally prescient), and the great governments of the Continent are at each other’s throats. The only person who suspects a more complex explanation to the political turmoil is consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr), who believes that the entire spectrum of recent crime can be attributed to one person – noted scientist and lecturer Prof. James Moriarty (Harris), a pillar of society who Holmes nevertheless suspects of being a criminal mastermind.

Meanwhile, Holmes’ long-term partner Dr Watson (Law) has (despite the events of the first film) finally managed to make it to the altar. But his Brighton honeymoon is rudely curtailed when Holmes and Moriarty’s private conflict spills into the wider world. With the assistance of gypsy fortune-teller Madame Sim (Rapace) and Holmes’ even more eccentric brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), Holmes and Watson must stop Moriarty before he succeeds in committing the ultimate crime – starting a world war…

My principal objection to Sherlock Holmes was its total dismissal of the incredibly rich source material from which its plot was ostensibly drawn. Another film down the line, and I’m basically over the fact that Holmes, Watson, Moriarty, Adler, Lestrange and all the rest of the film’s characters bear little or no resemblance to their literary antecedents – and once that bitter pill has been swallowed, there’s a lot more to enjoy. Robert Downey Jr is once again brilliant as the dissolute genius, and Jared Harris’ brooding, demonic Moriarty is both a chillingly good villain and a worthy adversary. Noomi Rapace is wasted as the obligatory woman, and Jude Law is as shit as he has been FOREVER.

Just like the cast, the film itself isn’t all bad. The script is a bit better than last time, the score is frankly superb and even the cinematography is slightly more inventive than in Sherlock’s rather more prosaic 2009 adventure – my main issue is with Ritchie’s fundamental inability to do anything but remake his first couple of adequate gangster films. The boys run about in a cloud of inflammatory boxes, exploding buildings, roaring people and heaving bodices reminiscent of a Harry Flashman novel on crack, frantically negotiating the schizophrenic intricacies of a plot which feels like it’s based on one of the wars my Lego men used to have in about 1994. Horrifyingly, A Game of Shadows also owes a huge debt to the basically irredeemable League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – and I’m fairly sure the ‘starting a war during a peace conference’ ploy turned up in Team America. I can’t have been the only person waiting for Jared Harris to say “You are worthress, Arec Bardwin!”.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows will be a huge success, obviously, and we can expect to see the inevitable threequel as soon as 2013’s Iron Man 3 is safely out of the way. I just wish Guy Ritchie – who actually appears to be experiencing a career revival off Holmes’ back – could be persuaded to piss off and cede the reins to a director with anything approaching vision or range. Snatch was a long time ago, Guy, and rewriting it with top hats isn’t fooling anyone.

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