It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since Ritchie threw the deerstalker out with the kitchen sink and rebooted the great detective’s cinematic canon. In keeping with his revision of the Sherlockian world, the stakes have been decidedly upped. Gone are the notions of the more whimsical misadventures of Conan Doyle’s era, replaced here by full blown, karate-chopping, earth-shattering missions which will "prevent the fall of Western civilisation".
This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing. Any Holmes enthusiast who prefers the sleuth’s escapades to be taken at a slower pace, with a slightly tighter grip on the original source material, can turn to the BBC’s TV adaptation. At the other end of the spectrum is Downey Jnr, a bustling bohemian beauty who saves the world between sips of embalming fluid and animal experimentation.
A Game of Shadows picks up a few months after the first instalment left off. Holmes (Downey Jr) has become obsessed by the villainous Professor Moriarty (Harris), an ingenious Oxford scholar who appears to be manipulating world events for his own gain. Watson (Law) is finally marrying the love of his life, Mary (Reilly) and Holmes is struggling to come to terms with the idea that their partnership may be be coming to an end.
McAdams returns briefly as Sherlock’s muse, Irene Adler, only to soon be pushed aside for the gypsy fortune teller Sim (Rapace). While Rapace does everything she needs to, just as well as she needs to, she’s never fleshed out enough to make her a relatable, interesting character. Fry also pops up as Holmes’ elder brother, Mycroft, and audiences will see a lot more of Fry on-screen that ever before (you’ll understand that one when you see it).
The first half-an-hour consists of expository dialogue and a slight over-indulgence in kung-fu fighting, but once the plot actually kicks in it gets real interesting, real quickly. The visuals are mesmerising and there’s a nice few returns to the slo-mo "Holmes-o-vision" during fight sequences, most effectively applied during Holmes and Moriarty’s final confrontation.
Overall, if you can forgive inexplicable timing, superhuman fighting abilities, convoluted backstory and futuristic surgical procedures in favour of the camaraderie, action, tragedy and adventure that the second instalment has to offer, you are in for a hell of a ride. Purists will no doubt label it as a jumped-up Hollywood re-imagining for the Bourne generation. But if that leads to a really good film, is it really such a problem?