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.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss