VICTORIANA buffs will not be amused by Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, but it’s a modest improvement on bad-boy director Guy Ritchie’s first tweaking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective.
Not because it’s more subtle: this sequel is just as OTT as its 2009 predecessor with explosions and quick cuts.
But the dialogue is a little sharper, and Holmes gets a worthy opponent in Professor Moriarty.
The movie’s first moments, set in a dingy 1891 London, establish the tone.
The story begins with papers and the sound of typing but immediately hops to Strasbourg for a massive explosion.
It seems a diabolical mastermind has begun a series of bombings and assassinations, hoping to spark a “world war” two decades before one actually occurred.
That sort of super villainous premise owes more to Ian Fleming or Marvel Comics than to Conan Doyle’s drawing-room mysteries.
Robert Downey Jr plays Holmes as brainy, yet highly physical and keen on dressing up.
A Game of Shadows introduces him in Chinese drag, and doesn’t waste much time getting him into a wig and a dress.
In addition to Jared Harris’s vulpine Moriarty, the movie adds an amusing if mostly peripheral turn by Stephen Fry as Holmes’s older brother, Mycroft.
It also wastes original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace as a gypsy fortune-teller whose action skills barely matter and Rachel McAdams who reprises, but only briefly, her role of love interest Irene Adler.
Finally Jude Law returns as Dr Watson, Holmes’s famous sidekick, for a role whose boots he is yet to fill satisfactorily.
Extreme close-ups, violent edits and slo-mo inserts are used to depict both visceral action and Holmes’s methodical thought.
Thinking, however, is not the movie’s priority. The game here is action-farce, and that’s better played with swagger than with intellect.