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'Jolly good yarn’. ‘Witty banter’. ‘Romp’. All could be applied, quite appropriately, to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - the sequel to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 reimagining of Britain’s favourite genius-detective (reprised gleefully by Robert Downey Jr). There’s a slick continuity of style here, and the slow motion trick is used with particular relish. ‘Slower than a plodding tortoise’ it appears, is the new ‘faster than a speeding bullet’. In certain places this works well, and it was easy to be sucked into the mania, music and merriment of the fight scenes, for the simple fact that Downey Jr. is so engaging to watch. I was having fun, so much so in fact that I forgot to pay attention. And that is a dangerous thing to do in A Game of Shadows. Not because the overriding plot is difficult to follow, but because the individual sequences of Holmes’ brilliance are just a little too tenuous.
The film is nonetheless peppered by moments of joy which manage to redeem the slightly clumsy story development. There is not a bad word to be said for the Holmes/Shetland pony pairing; the progress of which, over beautifully filmed French and German countryside, I could happily watch for the full feature time. The development of Holmes and Watson’s relationship (excellently played again by Jude Law) is also heart-warming to watch; boyish, tender, they act best when they act together and bring out the subtler elements of Ritchie’s shoot-‘em-up world. Stephen Fry is spot-on as the genius aristocrat Mycroft Holmes, lovingly exposing Holmes and Watson for what they really are; highly educated ruffians caught up in tomfoolery and bromance. The dynamic works well, even if Fry and Downey Jr. do make the most unconvincing of siblings.
There is even a spot of nudity, though unlikely to create as much of a feminine flutter as that of Benedict Cumberbatch’s towel drop in Stephen Moffat’s sensual Sherlock last Sunday (no offence, Mr Fry.) The Holmes boys, it seems, like to get their kit off. But that could be the only similarity between these small and silver screen portrayals, and it’s unfortunate that these second part-ers emerge at similar times.
The legendary intellect of Ritchie’s Holmes is entirely physical, limited to pre-empting fights and concocting hilarious disguises. Compare this with Cumberbatch’s more cerebral sleuth, and Downey Jr.’s take isn’t the workings of a beautiful mind so much as the machinations of a powerful body, which means that the battle of wits so long promised between Holmes and Moriarty culminates in just another fight. And Jared Harris is brilliant, but underused, as the part-Lenin-part-Milo Minderbinder Professor Moriarty. Jolly good fun it may be, but there is no encouragement to really think in A Game of Shadows. There is only so much hitting that can be done before an adaption of a cerebral character starts to miss.