Sequels are a tricky beast. People liked your first film and flocked to the cinema in droves to watch it. The studio want to equal the success (read: box-office) of the original while expanding the world of the film enough to sustain a franchise in the way that the James Bond films have. The pitfalls in their way usually entail trying to cram too much into a single film. Batman Forever is a good example of this where the movie featured no less than the origin story of three villains, multiple sub-villains as well as a romantic plot-line. Another problem sequels commonly have is to rehash what worked in the original. Case and point would be the Austin Powers movies: endless re-workings of jokes from the first movie turned what were original gags into tired old tropes inducing more groans than chuckles. So it came as no small relief that Guy Ritchie’s follow-up to his 2009 Sherlock Holmes is an unconventionally solid sequel.
Game of Shadows finds Baker Street’s greatest mind working to uncover the nefarious plan of one Professor Moriarty (played by Mad Men’s Jared Harris). Established as a world class brain-box (as well as Oxford boxing champ, by the way), they prove to be a challenge for each other. The few scenes Harris and Robert Downey Jr. have together spark wonderfully as they engage and Holmes tries to get to the bottom or Moriarty’s scheme. When they plan does reveal itself, it’s completely ludicrous and needlessly complicated, although it’s good to see the villain driven by greed instead of by a desire be villainous.
Ritchie’s visual tricks are back in force, dispensing with Michael Bay’s style of quick-cutting action sequences in favour of slow-motion set pieces – a sweet relief from the blockbuster-induced seizures that I’m prone to. Holmes and Watson fight a Cossack assassin in a Victorian gin palace and escape a German munitions base: the set-pieces are bigger and louder than in the first Sherlock without losing sight of the humour that made it a success. Although their character arcs are pretty much the same this time –Holmes is dismayed at being abandoned by Watson, whose imminent nuptials are putting the brakes on their relationship—Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law seem more comfortable in their partnership and their rapport is easier than ever.
Rounding out the cast this time round is Stephen Fry as Mycroft, Holmes’ smarter older brother, in a role that seems tailor-made for him: haughty, sharp and slightly camp, he delights every minute he’s on screen. Noomi Rapace (formerly of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series) is also along for the adventure as a feisty Gypsy whose brother is somehow entangled in Moriarty’s grand design. She isn’t cast as a romantic interest, which is another sweet relief: as mentioned before, superfluous love stories are a great way to bog down your story.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is by no means a masterpiece –as before, Downey’s take on Sherlock is fun but lightweight– but as a piece of light entertainment for December movie-goers it’s a slick romp that hits the spot.