When one is creating a sequel to a big budget film adapted from slightly loose source material (see comic book movies), there are generally three rules to abide by for your second outing.
Rule 1: Go bigger. Take everything from the first film, make it less subtle and then blow it up.
Rule 2: Go darker. You know that slightly jokey tone the first film had? Yeah, that’s gone and has been replaced by imminent and possibly gruesome peril for all characters involved.
Rule 3: If he/she has not been defeated in film 1, introduce your franchise’s most famous villain (The Dark Knight is a paragon of good sequel citizenship, obeying each of these laws absolutely).
Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows shall therefore be considered a minor rebel in the world of blockbuster cinema. It most certainly goes bigger, with the tale revolving around the threat of World War 1 being started about 20 years early and introduces the main Holmes villain in the form of Professor Moriarty (relative unknown Jared Harris delivering a startlingly menacing performance). However, Guy Ritchie and his team cast aside Rule 2 gleefully and, in fact, this sequel is lighter than its predecessor (one nasty torture sequence aside), eschewing the quasi-gothic horror sensibilities of the first film and becoming far more caperesque, as the seminal detective romps around Europe preventing ‘the collapse of Western civilisation”.
By now, you should know what to expect from this series. This is not your usual Sherlock, solving cases as Britishly as possible, often avoiding physical conflict. Robert Downey Jr is a man of action, master of martial arts and occasionally blows stuff up. So, if you claimed that this new take was butchery of Conan Doyle’s creation, then you are unlikely to be won over here. If however, you accept that really this a James Bond film set in the Victorian era you can allow yourself to have a good time here.
After a slightly slow opening ten minutes the action really kicks off at Watson’s failed stag do, with a hugely impressive chase/fight sequence set to perfectly pitched music. Yes, the superb soundtrack returns from number 1, combining 1800s sensibilities with a hint of the POTC soundtrack (which is the best cinema has to offer). This really sets the tone as the duo fight their way from an English train, to Paris, to Germany and finally to the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. The whole thing is very crisp and evidently high-budget although the cinematography sometimes looks like a videogame and the gratuitous slow motion would make Zack Snyder proud.
The script and acting can’t always keep up with the frenetic pace, with some lines feeling custom written for a trailer and not a film, and some infrequent slip ups from both RDJ and Jude Law and Stephen Fry probably steals the show, by benefit of being the perfect man to play Mycroft. The female presence is absolutely minimal (Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly are on screen for about 10 minutes between them, with Noomi Rapace not always looking entirely comfortable in her first English speaking role), but perhaps that is to be expected in a bromance dangerously close to losing the b.
However, it is easy to forget these problems when SH2 really hits its stride, as it is simply an extremely enjoyable time, a film you could watch a number of times with any form of company and the two hours simply fly by. It may not be the real, classy Sherlock Holmes (we can look to the BBC and Benedict Cumberbatch for that), but it can easily fill that slightly cerebral action-adventure hole until the next official Bond movie.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Michele and Kieran Mulroney
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Jared Harris
Run Time: 129 minutes