I was not a fan of director Guy Ritchie's first " Sherlock Holmes." Ritchie + Downey Jr. + Jude Law should've equaled a cinematic grand slam. It was more like a single, though, and the runner got thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. Even so, thanks to the Sherlock Holmes brand and the star power of Robert Downey Jr., the movie went on to gross over $209 million in the U.S. So, here comes the sequel.
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" starts with a bang. Literally. An ear-popping, jump-out-of-your-seat, pants-on-the-ground explosion. It's our introduction to Holmes' latest self-appointed investigation. Suffice it to say, there's a conspiracy afoot, and our hero suspects one of the most brilliant minds in the world is orchestrating a charade - or, in this case, the titular game of shadows.
The first 15 minutes of this movie is far more intriguing and, frankly, far more exciting than the whole of the first film. Writers Michele and Kieran Mulrooney ratchet up the intensity by killing off an A-list star just minutes after the opening scene. It's a great plot device and does the job, keeping us interested and, pardon the cliché, on the edge of our seats.
Continuing to keep us (or maybe just me) interested is the addition of the superb British actor/author Stephen Fry as Sherlock's brother, Mycroft. Like his brother, Mycroft is an odd genius but his brilliance and eccentricities are slightly more mainstream than his brother's, landing him a key role in the British government.
The icing on the cake comes in the form of Jared Harris as Professor James Moriarty, Holmes' nemesis and intellectual equal. With a complete lack of a moral compass, Moriarty proves to be a formidable and entertaining enemy. Worth mentioning is actress Noomi Rapace, whose gypsy character plays a vital role in Moriarty's diabolical plot to start a war. Rapace proves she's got a range beyond the considerable talent she demonstrated as Lisbeth Salander the original Swedish " The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" film series.
Director Guy Ritchie clearly needed the first " Sherlock Holmes" movie to work the kinks out of his formula, because he nailed " A Game of Shadows." The first movie felt like it was directed by someone trying to be Guy Ritchie. " A Game of Shadows" feels like a Guy Ritchie movie, and a good one at that. The fight choreography is stunning, funny and feels fresh. Anchoring the film, Robert Downey Jr. is a gift, and that's the main reason I found the first film so disappointing - the gift seemed wasted, and I simply had no desire to see him reprise the role. However, this time around, he's a more compelling, complex and funnier Sherlock Holmes. After seeing " Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," I'd love to see him, and Ritchie, give it another go.
Four out of five stars.