Film of the Week: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Warner Brothers
Director: Guy Ritchie
Robert Downey Jnr, Jude Law, Stephen Fry, Jared Harris
Running time

I have to admit, when I saw the action-packed trailer for the first Sherlock Holmes reboot I thought Guy Ritchie had sold out to Hollywood whilst in the process of destroying a much-cherished British icon. Perhaps he did, but like his debut, the thoroughly silly and entertaining Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

There were several very simple reasons it worked. It was shameless unpretentious fun and Robert Downey Jnr played himself, always his strongest role. And Jude Law as Dr. Watson enjoyed visible onscreen chemistry with his superior as he does here again at a time when his career was wobbling. For me, the extra bonus was a brilliant original score and some wonderful recreations of late 19th century London.

Inevitably, the runaway blockbuster of that first success has demanded a follow-up and as wise folk say in terms of formula ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’ and that’s exactly what’s happened here - it’s the same.

It’s the same except only more so. Bigger, louder, sillier and I dare say a lot more fun for it. The dial has been turned up all the way to eleven with spectacular action; top-notch effects and once again a magnificent and sometimes eclectic thundering score by Hans Zimmer and more wonderful period recreations of both London and Paris.

The plot (not that this film requires a critical breakdown) concerns Holmes arch rival Moriarty and his nefarious plan to engulf Europe in what will eventually become The First World War, not for the purpose of world domination but for the sheer hell of it and to be the financial controller and beneficiary as he puts it of ‘the bullets and the plasters’. 

Much of the pleasure to be derived here in the various twists and turns that unfold are the showdowns between hero and villain, the latter played by Jared Harris on top megalomaniac form as Holmes dark side and nemesis. The men admire and despise each other in equal measure and their cat and mouse games to ensnare each other within their activities are both compelling and hilarious.

What I enjoyed most about this was the break from tradition in that they meet regularly and discuss their plans as gentlemen of honour, engaging in civil discourse or a game of chess with every line of dialogue having a double meaning. Holmes could just pull out a gun and shoot the maniac but that would be unsporting as they derive immense pleasure from admiring each others brilliance, always trying to be one step ahead.

Much of their cat and mouse posturing is utterly ridiculous but done with a great deal of tongue in cheek thereby dispensing with the need for a reality check.

Although this is half comedy Bromance between Downey and Law with a dash of a James Bond vibe throughout, Downey’s Holmes is more Jason Bourne meets Chaplin, a role he has already excelled at and as long as you don’t take any of it too seriously you’ll enjoy it immensely. The shootouts and action are modern, filmed with Matrix like panache and deafening thunder but it’s the period detail and the occasional bit of cross-dressing in ye olde outfits that root it in the past.

So whilst Conan Doyle and Basil Rathbone fans may feel the cerebral has been removed from Holmes cerebellum, there’s much to enjoy in this daft but epic and visually stimulating fair ground ride. This film will be huge and inevitably I’ll be reviewing a third instalment in a year or two.