Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Review

Worth seeing: for a reprise of Robert Downey Jr's fast-talking portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, the action hero
Director:Guy Ritchie
Featuring:Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr, Eddie Marsan, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry
Length:129 minutes
Released:16th December 2011


It’s 1891 and tensions are growing in Europe; bombs have been going off in France and Germany and a peace conference has been called in Switzerland, to try to avert war.

Meanwhile, there’ve been a number of mysterious murders across the world – cotton dealers, gun runners, plastic surgeons – all apparently unrelated.

Only someone of the intellect of the intrepid private detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) can tie it all together and pinpoint his greatest adversary Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) as the chief suspect.

But finding out who is behind it isn’t enough – Holmes has to work out what dastardly plan is in train to prevent Europe descending into war.

Dragging his only friend, Doctor Watson (Jude Law), away from his honeymoon, Holmes sets off to uncover – and scupper – Moriarty’s plot, picking up gypsy fortune-teller Madam Simza (Noomi Rapace) and her cronies along the way.


Guy Ritchie has followed up his first outing at the helm of this re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes with another thundering action film that has confirmed he is, once again, a director with a career. Two years ago, he finally got his mojo back and he’s kept hold of it.

Much like last time, he’s come up with a plot so devastatingly twisted and complex that it doesn’t bear too much deconstruction, but the action sequences linked by the twisted knots are bigger, faster, louder and more elaborate than ever.

There’s not an awful lot of detecting going on – not that’s any use to us, anyway; close-ups of Robert Downey Jr’s eyes, intercut with details he’s looking at tell us he’s working on something, but because he’s always so far ahead of everyone else, it’s usually quite a while before we catch up, making it more a case of sitting back to enjoy the ride than trying to work out where it’s going.

And the ride is fun – if not always comfortable – from early cars to steam-trains, horses to ponies, running through forests, dodging rockets, swinging from butcher’s hooks, taking bullets and more.

It’s tiring, but exhilarating – tremendous fun but nonsense.

Downey Jr is on fire – every staccato word fired like a bullet, every motion heightened by the substances he shouldn’t be taking – as before though, Law, as his side-kick, is more of a foil than a character in his own right. At the heart of the film is a relationship – between this pair – not dissimilar from a bickering married couple.

Stephen Fry is a little over the top as Holmes’ brother – if being over the top in this film is possible – while Noomi Rapace, last seen as the heroine of the Swedish version of the Dragon Tattoo films, adequately fills the role of the female support – doing lots of running and fighting in her own right but not, in truth, much of real substance to get her acting chops into.

As for Ritchie himself, there are a few too moments where it feels like he’s visually reaching back to his early Lock-Stock days, with editing tricks that don’t feel as fresh as they might, as we’ve seen them from Ritchie before.

The first time we saw Sherlock Holmes burst onto the big screen in this guise it was utterly refreshing – this time, it’s thirst quenching, but little more.

It’s an odd case of Ritchie and co trying to push it further than last time, so as not to feel stale, but in so doing, it feels a little stale is it feels like he’s just trying to push it at the expense of making the best of the film.

It’s true that without the luxury of originality that the last film had, they feel they have to surpass it, but actually, if there’s a formula that works, they might have been better to stick to it than to try to improve it.

Popular soft drinks sell more when they stick to their secret formula.

And that’s elementary.