Featuring a worthy adversary and a plot that actually makes sense, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" is that rare sequel that is better than the original film, in this case the overwrought computer-generated hedgehog goulash that was Guy Ritchie's 2009 "Sherlock Holmes." Is it the new writers?
The first film introduced us to a Holmes and Watson for a new generation, and they were the best thing about it, thanks to the chemistry between American Robert Downey Jr. as Victorian-Edwardian-era "consulting detective" Sherlock Holmes and Englishman Jude Law as Dr. John Watson.
In this installment, also directed by Ritchie ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") and which might be described as the "Some Like It Hot" of Holmes movies, "storm clouds are brewing" over a notably steampunk Europe, and Holmes is on the trail of nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris, "Mad Men"). Moriarty plans to corner the market in guns and bandages and ignite a "world war." Of course, this really was about to happen, only a bit later.
Helping Moriarty are a Cossack ninja and a colonel (Paul Anderson) turned sniper-assassin.
Aiding Holmes and reluctantly recruited Watson are Holmes' politically connected brother Mycroft (a marvelous Stephen Fry), who affectionately calls his sibling "Shirley," and plucky, knife-wielding gypsy fortune-teller Madam Simza (Noomi Rapace, the iconic Swedish-screen Lisbeth Salander).
Once again, Holmes utilizes his skill in the art of disguise and his ability to foresee the actions of others based on his keen powers of observation and deduction.
But this description does little to convey how much fun this film is. Ritchie, formerly the husband of Madonna, has dropped the macho swagger of his earlier work and embraced his inner swish.
Holmes may have his flirtation with Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), and Watson may even marry his beloved Mary (an appealing Kelly Reilly). But these tweedy lads were truly meant for each other, so much so that Holmes, dressed as a woman in desperate need of depilatory, disrupts Watson's wedding night and throws the newly minted Mrs. Watson from a train.
Ritchie remains enthralled by locks, stocks and smoking barrels of all kinds. His visual style combines high-speed photography, detailed choreography and montage, often freezing frames during chase, fight and shoot-out scenes. Holmes, who has been abusing "coffee, tobacco and cocoa leaves" and continues to experiment upon Watson's bulldog, disguises himself as an armchair in one sequence.
Harris, who has the velvety voice of his actor father Richard Harris (the screen's original Dumbledore), is this film's ace in the hole as Holmes' "morally insane" mirror image. Hans Zimmer's wonderful score incorporates period music and existing music, including maestro Ennio Morricone's theme from "Two Mules for Sister Sara." The plot further features a channel crossing, Mozart's "Don Giovanni," a game of chess and those notorious Reichenbach Falls. The game, this time out, is gloriously afoot.
("Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" contains violence and sexually suggestive scenes.)
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