Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (12A)

3.00

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Jared Harris

Arguments about Guy Ritchie's trivialisation of Sherlock Holmes two years ago were rendered more or less irrelevant when the film – surprisingly – made over $500m at the box office. Audiences apparently couldn't get enough of Robert Downey Jr's steampunk version of the Baker Street detective, no matter the preposterous anachronisms and nonsensical plotting the film felt at liberty to indulge. It also made this sequel an inevitability.

How quickly it has established its own mood and tempo. Ritchie, perhaps feeling vindicated by his 2009 triumph, has swapped the five writers on the first movie for husband-and-wife team Michele and Kieran Mulroney, but aside from that it's the same again. I'm not sure Conan Doyle would recognise his creation as revived in A Game of Shadows, though it's not his ghost the film sets out to please. This is product designed for a cinema public raised on video games, slo-mo violence and the genial narcissism of the modern star. It is karaoke Sherlock, barely related to the original, yet not without a sense of fun.

It also carries over from the first film a strong erotic chemistry between Downey Jr's dissolute chameleon Holmes and Jude Law's stable, upright Dr. Watson. This is by no means an original tweak – Billy Wilder put a naughty spin on their camaraderie in his 1970 The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely – and in Ritchie's case it is quite consistent with his other work, as male-dominated as wrestling or heavy rock. He doesn't seem to "get" women as characters, and here dispatches two in quick succession: Rachel McAdams, reprising her role as Irene Adler, makes a permanent exit on being poisoned, while Kelly Reilly as Watson's new bride is flung from a train en route to her honeymoon in Brighton. That she lands unharmed in the river is small recompense, given that the man who did the flinging was Holmes himself – leaving him alone with Watson in the bridal carriage. Together at last!

The reason why he takes this drastic course of action is soon explained – the train is crawling with hired killers out for Watson's blood – though Holmes clearly relished his swift ejection of Mrs. Watson to "safety". He persists in the belief that his sleuthing partner prefers his company to that of his missus, and he may be right. Meanwhile, those killers are in the employ of the detective's arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who's been organising a campaign of terror around Europe so as to foment something called a "world war". The year is 1891, with Moriarty plainly a man ahead of his time. As is much else here, including a private motor car and automatic weaponry of improbable efficiency: nothing seems to excite Ritchie more than the feral clatter of machine-guns, extravagantly turned on Holmes and Watson (still in the bridal compartment) when a single gunman could have done the job with less fuss.

The action set-pieces, tending to overkill, are no more satisfying than the whippy montages of deduction meant to evoke the brilliant mind of Holmes, racing to its own speedfreak beat. But there is no plausible sense of mental ingenuity here, just as there is no real clue-hunting. What those montages actually convey is Ritchie and his editor whooping it up in post-production. A Game of Shadows only becomes enjoyable when it pauses the plot and gives the stage to its performers, or rather, performer: Downey Jr sports with the role like a jazz musician noodling in and out of a tune. Half the time his Holmes seems bent on keeping himself amused as much as anyone, tippling on embalming fluid or chowing down hedgehog goulash at a gipsy encampment. And he's very funny when called on to join a posse, revealing a lifelong aversion to horses ("dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle"). Downey Jr is one of the great crowdpleasers, toying with expectations and always delighted to dress up. Here he disguises himself, variously, as a Chinaman, a bellhop, a lady, a lecture-hall snoozer and – this got the biggest laugh of the night – a chair. Yes, a chair.

The star's madcap persona carries a movie that's a little thin everywhere else. Law supplies a tweedy tolerance as Watson, Harris has intelligence but not quite enough malice as Moriarty, Stephen Fry as Holmes's brother looks a lot like a Wilde caricature of a part he once played (did anyone anticipate his nude scene?) Noomi Rapace, star of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, attaches herself to the plot halfway, though I've no idea what she was meant to be doing, and from the look of it, nor has she. Otherwise, honours are divided between Philippe Rousselot's wonderful lighting and photography, and Sarah Greenwood's production design, at least in the London sequences: the tatty street markets and fancy interiors put us right in the middle of what we imagine the fin-de-siècle may have looked like.

Even with its enactment of the famous encounter at the Reichenbach Falls, the picture is at least half an hour too long, and nothing about the film or its predecessor convinces me it will supplant Jeremy Brett in the 1980s-90s TV serial as the greatest Holmes of the lot. Downey Jr's is a cheering incarnation, though the only way he could surprise us now would be to play the part in a cape and deerstalker.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine