Given that the Robert Downey Jr./ Jude Law action-fest known simply as Sherlock Holmes was a huge hit, it didn't take a genius to realize that a sequel would be coming sooner rather than later. (These are two busy actors, don't forget, plus the big studios realize that sooner equals better as far as Part 2s are concerned.) So here we are, two quick years later, and fans of the first flick will no doubt be lining up for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
Those fans should leave the theater relatively pleased; those who disliked the first film will find nothing to like here.
Director Guy Ritchie also returns, but there's been a big shake-up in the screenwriter department. Gone is the committee that concocted the first film, and now the writing duties fall to spousal scribes Michele and Kieran Mulroney. And given how quickly a sequel like this is forced to come together, it's cool to note that A Game of Shadows makes a little more narrative "sense" than its predecessor, but please do note that I just used the word sense in quotation marks.
Those who worship at the altar of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will probably look at Sherlock 1 and A Game of Shadows the way Clint Eastwood looks at the Transformers movies, and while those fans do have some legitimate gripes (Downey, fun though he is, rarely evokes an actual genius detective), the simple truth is that Ritchie's films are a manic lark, slight homages to the true Holmes that have been reformed and retrofitted into something resembling Victorian-era Michael Bay films. That the combination of Holmes' universe and raucous displays of incongruous mayhem work so well is a testament to Ritchie's sense of humor, the screenplay's fast pace, and (of course) the endlessly amusing chemistry between Downey and Law.
Perhaps slightly more faithful to the original text that the first film, Holmes 2 introduces the lead character's brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry in a time-filling subplot that's still pretty funny), and brings to the fore the most nefarious of all Sherlock's nemeses: the outrageously devious and brilliant Professor Moriarty. As played by the effortlessly hiss-worthy Jared Harris, Moriarty's presence brings a kind of 007 vibe to the ongoing adventures of Holmes and Watson -- which is really helpful when you consider that the flick's two leading ladies (Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams) are given virtually nothing to do but much heavy exposition lifting. Plot-wise, here's what matters: Moriarty is trying to start a war between several nations, and it's up to Holmes and Watson to thwart his plans. It's all rather elaborately basic.
Tentpoled by three maniacally elaborate action scenes, and consistently buoyed by the wit and collective charm of the leading men, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows fits more than comfortably alongside its slightly more insane big brother. This is big-time, empty-headed, holiday season sequelizing at its most obvious, but it's nice to see a quick-turnaround sequel that knows what we liked the first time around, and manages to bring just a few new surprises to the party.