When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary consulting detective was dusted off and re-interpreted for the big screen by Guy Ritchie in 2009, the result was a light and breezy but intriguing and re-invigorating take on one of the most adapted characters of all time. It proved that there was still life left in Holmes, as well as a place for him in the 21st century. It was no surprise that a sequel was quickly put into production — too quickly apparently, as Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows suffers from a distinct case of sequelitis: the same thing as before, only more of it.
The murky plot involves Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) attempting to disrupt the nefarious plans Professor James Moriarty (well-played by character actor Jared Harris), a distinguished Oxford mathematics professor who is secretly a “Napoleon of Crime”, pulling the strings on a number of plots designed to bring about war on a global scale.
To thwart him, Holmes badgers his right-hand man Dr. Watson (Jude Law) into assisting him on the eve of the latter’s impending marriage; also joining them is a gypsy named Simsa (Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), whose anarchist brother is somehow involved in the plot, and Holmes’ brother Mycroft (the always superb Stephen Fry).
It’s pretty straightforward fare, well-suited for Ritchie’s take on Holmes and the pseudo-steampunk aesthetic he opts for, but it’s undone by a murky narrative that opts for confusing over complex while rushing from one stylishly shot but poorly edited action set piece to the next. The movie spins its wheels for much of the first two acts: Holmes is still miffed about losing Watson to marriage (been there, done that, got the souvenir t-shirt, and there’s no need to go back again), Downey indulges in a number of fanciful disguises, Rapace and Fry are given little to do, and Downey and Law are still a good duo, even though their shtick feels labored this time around.
Oddly, it glosses over what should have been the meat of the story, the cat-and-mouse game between Holmes and his nemesis. Their limited encounters don’t heat up until the climax, which includes a cleverly revised take on their fateful battle at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. It’s after that point that Game of Shadows comes alive; unfortunately, it’s too late to make us care.