Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might be turning in his grave at the use of his work but if he had a sense of humour he might appreciate Guy Ritchie’s more contemporary, humorous interpretation of his British sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, and certainly admire Robert Downey Jr’s eccentric turn as the infamous detective again.
What is certain is Ritchie gets to play out his love of Cockney bromance once more, while taking a European action-packed tour, Orient Express style this time around.
Holmes (Downey Jr) turns sulky schoolboy when his right-hand man, Dr Watson (Jude Law), decides to give up bachelorhood and get hitched, leaving his detecting days behind. After taking over his stag do, ‘Best Man’ Holmes sabotages the happy couple’s honeymoon to Brighton, after discovering his arch nemesis, the brilliant mathematician Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), has hatched a bombing plan to set off a war in Europe, in order to peddle his arms wares. With ample action set-pieces and Matrix-style manoeuvres, plus the help of tag-a-long gypsy beauty Simza (Noomi Rapace), who is searching for her long-lost brother, the ‘brothers-in-clues’ set off on one finale adventure.
Downey Jr and Law have perfected their quick-fire, dry exchange and camp rebuffs in the second film with the finesse and the ease of a comedy duo with years of live performance experience. Downey Jr’s portrayal of Holmes’s borderline insanity is heightened in this film by a touch of transsexual tomfoolery that is inoffensive and relevant to the plot. With the delightful addition of the witty gentleman’s gentleman, Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s equally absurd, ‘naturist’ brother in the mix, there has never been such a display of English idiosyncrasy on-screen in a long time to revel in, and although Downey Jr is always a tonic, Fry steals the scenes they share with aplomb.
Ritchie ramps up the action tenfold, with full slow-mo, sharp-angled purpose to extract every Holmes clue and acute observation while turning parts into impressive cat-and-mouse, war chase scenes that fuel your enthusiasm and adrenaline. The waterfall finale that encompasses a meeting of brilliant minds over a deadly chess match is breathtakingly honed for full effect, leaving us – and even Conan Doyle – wondering on the actual fate of the UK’s most notorious fictional detective; this might leave some Sherlock Holmes fans perplexed, even perturbed.
However, the film has its flaws. First and foremost is its padded length that although punctuated by the impressive action sequences has a lot of lag to it. All the sharp dialogue and subsequent action suffers when it could have been a more succinct viewing experience. For example, the brief appearance of Holmes’s love, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), at the start is merely present for the benefit of giving Holmes’s mission a deep-felt purpose and to pour salt on the wound that his best pal, Watson, has found happiness in true love.
In addition, although Rapace as Simza is a mysterious beauty to have along on the ride, apart from being there to offload Watson’s trademark knitted scarf and to detect her brother’s presence – which she fails to, is sorely underused and underdeveloped and merely part of a gypsy resistance group that those with historical knowledge on the World Wars might find interesting as a persecuted people still in the news today. Even the snatched sideways glances between Simza and Watson are left lingering in the ether. Thankfully, the climax does make up for any tedious areas, with Downey Jr opposite Harris’s devilish and equally insane villainy in a wonderful sporting standoff of sheer intellectual prowess that befits Conan Doyle’s exceptional literature.
A Game of Shadows is pure period action drama with a delicious camp twist (cross-dressing aside) that demonstrates Downey Jr has made Holmes as much a part of his nature, as Captain Jack Sparrow is to Depp’s. This alone will keep fans more than occupied throughout Ritchie’s second sleuthing romp – inflated run-time aside.