Compelled to stop his newfound archenemy (Jared Harris) from instigating war, peace is not the sole source of concern for the sleuthing Sherlock (Robert Downey Jr). Domestically, his right-hand man Watson (Jude Law) is an increasingly sporadic presence, long moved out of 221B Baker Street ahead of his impending marriage. Yet ever the calculated conniver, Sherlock ensures that his friend’s stag party is pertinent to his assignment and unavoidably Watson is thrown into the thick of it as they trek across Europe, squabbling with and saving one another.
Funnier and sharper than the franchise’s opener, the ying-yang chemistry of Downey Junior and Law is filliped by Stephen Fry as Holmes’s brother Mycroft, but essentially playing Stephen Fry. Husband-and-wife team Kieran and Michele Mulroney energise proceedings with punchier dialogue that supersedes the four-pronged team that penned Downey Junior’s debut.
Often as is the case once the hero is established though is the finery of the villain. Harris’ casting triggered disappointment when names veering from Brad Pitt to Daniel Day-Lewis had been linked to the role, but he is perfect. Deliciously reptilian with a rasping voice which evokes his father’s vocals, he is an intimidating cerebral beast who is merciless when ostensibly charming.
Avoiding the banal ‘darker’ route, the Mulroneys nevertheless permit the antagonist a devious torture scene to the soundtrack of Die Forelle in what is an innovative exhibition of cinema’s megalomaniac. Unfortunately Harris is not allotted enough screen time to quench the appetite for his villainy.
Partly this is owed to Noomi Rapace’s gypsy girl Simza, established in a fit of feminist desperation in order not to alienate the female audience. Whereas Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler complemented Downey Junior with wily wit, Rapace is superfluous and haphazardly chosen to embody the film’s emotional arc.
Chaotic too, is Ritchie’s directing. Wisely forbidden from scrip-writing duties, the studio have got complacent and allowed him license to his motifs after cautiously keeping a short leash in the first outing. That unconscionable editing and ‘gritty’ sound effects that personified Snatch’s worst moments returns, while the interruption of slo-mo during the set-pieces predictably derails momentum. Hans Zimmer’s barnstorming score is consequently diluted.
Bromantic, subtly camp and featuring a thrilling sequence aboard a train, the final act fizzles out and is bereft of a desired duel between two of fiction’s most revered characters, but A Game of Shadows is an improvement. However with Ritchie at the helm and the Moriarty card already played, Holmes may be reaching for the violin rather than the magnifying glass.