Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 2011 ★★★★

It's impossible not to at least be aware of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's literary character Sherlock Holmes. From the original stylings of Doyle's books to the countless radio, television and movie adaptations, there have been more than enough adaptations over the years, to make Sherlock Holmes a household name. I was not among those that saw the first Sherlock Holmes movie by director Guy Ritchie at the cinema, I first saw it on DVD and was quite surprised at just how much I enjoyed the movie. Richie applied his skills used in contemporary settings for movies such as Lock Stock & Too Smoking Barrels and Snatch, to the settings of the 1800's, managing to keep the dialogue fresh but historically faithful to the time of the movie.

One surprise early on was the casting of an American actor in the lead role of Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Jr was not the type of persona I usually thought of when envisioning the character, who I always thought of as a slightly older age, thanks in no small part to the many images of Holmes wearing a deerstalker hat and smoking a long distinguished meerschaum pipe. Cast as his associate and colleague Dr John Watson was British actor Jude Law, personally more the kind of actor who I would have thought to be cast as Holmes out of the two of them.

The casting couldn't have worked out better though, as Downey Jr not only excelled at his performance of Holmes (including his solid English accent), but both he and Law suited their parts perfectly. As well as this, the two had great chemistry together on screen, which resulted in their squabbling relationship feeling extremely true and only strengthening their performances. Add to this the casting of previous Richie collaborator Mark Strong as the villain of the piece, and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, a long time distraction of Holmes, and you had a thoroughly enjoyable movie which was a lot more enjoyable than it had any right to be.

And so we come to the sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, with Downey Jr, Law, and McAdams returning on screen and Richie returning as director. The villain this time is as imfamous as Holmes - his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, who was played by an unknown actor in a small pivotal cameo in the first movie, is played by veteran British actor Jared Harris. Also rounding out the cast is Stephen Fry as Holmes' brother Mycroft, a character absent from the first movie.

Continuing the story threads from the end of the first movie, Game of Shadows opens with Holmes following Irene Adler through the streets of London. After defeating a group of men escorting her when she leads him into a trap, he finds her at an auction house where she has exchanged a parcel for a letter from a man. Narrowly preventing the man's death from the explosives hidden in the parcel, only for the man to be found dead outside the auction house from a blow dart.

Holmes examines the envelope and finds that it leads to a fortune teller, Madam Simza Heron (played by the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Repace). Meeting up at 221B Baker Street with Watson, who is due to marry his fiancé Mary the following day, he explains how he has been investigating several apparently random events, most of which are unsolved murders or unexplained deaths, and that they are all linked in one way or another to one man - Professor James Moriarty. Holmes proclaims that he and Moriarty are now locked into a game of shadows with each other, and the two of them must investigate to what nefarious end these people are being killed, what exactly Moriarty is up to, and how it involves Madam Simza.

All the week leading up to the release of A Game Of Shadows, I had seen advertising with the soundbyte 'Bigger, Better, Funnier' - usually a sign to be worried, this time however I am glad to say that this is simply spot on. The story of the first movie was appropriately complex, being that this is one of the greatest literary detectives, the sequel is even more complex, but without being so complex or convoluted as to lose the viewer - as long as you pay attention. The petty squabbling between these two friends is also back, and clearly the two actors are having a great time as it shows through in their performances during these scenes.

One of the things the movie has ramped up over the first is the amount of action , perhaps to a little bit of detrimental effect, it does however make for some incredibly entertaining action mixed in with the heavy plotting. In particular is one rather enjoyable set piece where the heroes are being chased by an army through woods while being fired at by ever larger artillery. Here Ritchie employs slow motion similar to the likes of director Michael Bay, but for very short moments as opposed to how he uses it, almost as if pausing to allow you to take a breath before plunging you back into the action, and he uses it to great effect.

Holmes' mental process of playing out an impending fight in his head is also back, used as effectively as in the first movie, and setting up some scenes which otherwise could have been too fast for the audience to follow. A great use of this is in a scene between Holmes and Moriarty, where both men are sizing up the other, playing out what would happen if they went at it.

The movie isn't all action though, as I said it contains a fairly heavy (and fairly unpredictable) plot, but also pauses at a few points for scenes where Holmes and Moriarty face off, never with a fight but with a conversation. It is these scenes that are perhaps the most outstanding of the movie, as we see both characters playing their game, and that Moriarty could actually be as good at it, if not better than Holmes. Jared Harris is fantastic in the part, and it's truly believable that he has it in him to be the victor.

As already stated, this movie is Bigger, Better, and Funnier. If you liked the first movie for the complexity of the plot, Holmes/Watson scenes, or action, you should enjoy this, if however you didn't like the amount of action in the first movie, you may want to give this a miss or wait for the DVD, as while it does have a plot to equal the first movie, it has a lot more action. One things for sure, I want to see this again, as there's almost certainly going to be things packed in the movie that I missed upon first viewing, and that's a good thing.

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