Pros: Guy Richie's superb direction, Downy and Law together again.
Cons: How does Holmes grow out three days of stubble overnight?
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Directed by Guy Richie
Dr. John Watson: [as he watches Sherlock drinking embalming fluid] You're drinking embalming fluid?
Sherlock Holmes: [exhales] Yes. Care for a drop?
Dr. John Watson: You do seem...
Sherlock Holmes: Excited?
Dr. John Watson: Manic.
Sherlock Holmes: I am.
Dr. John Watson: Verging on...
Sherlock Holmes: Aesthetic?
Dr. John Watson: Psychotic.
Dr. John Watson: [pause] I should've brought you a sedative.
As our story opens, Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is renewing his friendship with Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.). Holmes is very agitated; he has been tracking the biggest case of his career, a Shadowy Web of plots and assassinations that seems to be bent on nothing less than throwing Europe into a World Wide War. And even that distraction is not enough to take his mind off the fact that Dr. John Watson, friend, colleague, boon companion, is abandoning him for…matrimony.
Of course with Sherlock Holmes preparing the Stag Party, you know it will be memorable. It does not involve any of Watson’s friends, instead, we have Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry) Sherlock’s smarter brother. But as entertaining as Sherly and Mychy might be, nothing can compare with the Cossack assassin who is trying to kill a gypsy fortune teller, Madame Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace). Why has she been targeted? What is so important about a letter from her brother that a noted surgeon was killed for it? And why is Miss Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) involved?
Needless to say, Holmes gets Watson to the church on time, if somewhat the worse for wear. And Mrs. Mary Watson (Kelly Reilly) thinks that is the end of their involvement with Sherlock Holmes. How very wrong she is. That is a honeymoon train ride she is unlikely to forget.
Holmes knows who is behind it all- Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). What he lacks is proof; or a clear enough picture of his motives to anticipate his next move. But with the help of the Gypsies, Holmes and Watson are on a cross European quest to thwart the first World War, in 1891.
Nothing brings on surety like success. When Guy Richie reworked the first consulting detective back in 2009, he took a big chance, and took the most cerebral character in literature and gave him balls to match his brains. The thought of the purely mental Sherlock Holmes as an action hero seems…jarring, yet it was remarkably successful, wedding mental prowess with martial technique.
This second film took the pattern of the first…grim lighting, slow motion action scenes, Holmes’ patented “pugilistic prognostications” (thinking the fights through in his head before they happened) and did it better. A bit less of those techniques gives them greater impact. Richie tells the tale with great surety, confident in his actors and his own sense of plot and pace. Downey seems to have integrated Holmes successfully, and seems less like he is trying to channel Jeremy Brett and Bruce Lee at the same time. And Jude Law is, well, the same old Watson; intrepid companion, the anchor that prevents Holmes from manic-ing himself to death.
New to the production is Madame Simza Heron, played by the lovely Naoomi Rapace, who proves she can act and speak English, and with nothing pierced but her ears. And Stephen Fry updates Mycroft in much the way Downey Jr. did Sherlock. I guarantee it will make an impression on you.
The story, of course, is based on the fateful “The Final Problem” the only story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to feature “the Napoleon of Crime”. And of course it ends up at the Reichenback Falls. Think you know how it ends? Keep thinking that.
It is rare that a sequel outclasses the original; Star Trek the Motion Picture, and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan spring to mind. Yet, as much as I loved the original, I think this is a clear case of the sequel outshining the original, in scope and execution. Like Holmes, Richie sees everything, and makes it click together like clockwork.
This of course is entered into my "It's Elementary, My Dear Watson!" Mystery Write Off.