British director Guy Ritchie returns this week with steam-punk sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), with Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Holmes alongside Jude Law’s ever-dependable Dr. Watson, plus the addition of the original ‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ (and star of Ridley Scott’s upcoming 2012 3D sci-fi epic Prometheus) Noomi Rapace as Madam Simza Heron and Jared Harris as arch nemesis Professor James Moriarty.
Set soon after the events of Ritchie’s 2009 first effort Sherlock Holmes, our intrepid heroes are pitted against the diabolical machinations of the notorious Napoleon of crime, Professor Moriarty, played superbly by Harris. In a similar, yet much grander style to the first film, the gas-lamp fantasy theme is expanded from Victorian London to the sweeping landscapes of Europe. As Holmes and co. travel the continent we see the recently married Watson and a somewhat overly-crazed detective (perturbed by Watson’s marriage) in action. There are some surprisingly subtle references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary canon, albeit jazzed up for modern audiences.
There are also obvious allusions to the fiasco that was the dire adaptation of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), not only in style but also in plot. Like the aforementioned text, Moriarty is a much grander political figure, closer to a pseudo-Hitler than a crime lord. This works well, allowing Harris to have some fun with the character. Our own delectable polymath Stephen Fry also appears as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, in all his wonderful camp glory.
The problem with A Game of Shadows is that all the characters lack subtlety or deeper dimension, but that’s perhaps not what fans of Ritchie’s adaptation are looking for. The film suffers some of the same problems as its forebear; as a re-invention of a much beloved character, Ritchie has stripped Holmes of his genius and made him a boxing, drug-abusing hero.
What’s more, this sequel suffers from numerous plot holes including secondary characters that are killed off with little consequence. Filmmakers need to understand that action movies are only truly enjoyable when they are well trimmed of excessive fat – and this one is incredibly flabby (’tis the season, after all).
UK audiences should be suitably entertained, if not stimulated by Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. A romp -but by no means perfect (in fact, quite imperfect) – this sequel remains enjoyable for its over-the-top approach to a literary classic.
Read our coverage from the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows European premiere here.