You didn’t have to be a master detective to deduce the fact that a sequel to the surprisingly good Sherlock Holmes would be speedily produced following its box office success in 2009. The return of director Guy Ritchie as well as stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law was in the cards… as was the inevitable diminishing returns, both in regards to the follow-up’s quality and its grosses. That’s just how the world works.
However, Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows does have one trick up its sleeve that makes it a worthy companion to its predecessor: the upgrading of the homo-erotic subtext to clear-as-day text. There seems to be no effort made to obscure Sherlock and Dr. Watson’s full-blown love for one another; not even Watson’s marriage to another woman can dim their adoration. Downey Jr. and Law’s effervescent, irascible charm (and – let’s face it – their sexual chemistry) keeps the picture entertaining whenever Kieran and Michele Mulroney’s clumsy screenplay fails.
Shadows begins with the petulant and perpetually-at-work Holmes chasing after his former fling Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). She’s delivering a message from the notorious Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, right at home despite being far from the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) to a famed surgeon. Of course, by ‘message’, we mean ‘bomb’. ‘Message’ always means ‘bomb’ in these movies. On the eve of his wedding to no-nonsense Mary (Kelly Reilly), the good doctor Watson is snagged in Sherlock’s investigative web. The two of them struggle to outwit math genius Moriarty, who is single-handedly plotting the first World War in the hopes of profiteering from it. Timely!
There are a couple of fresh inclusions to the saga besides Harris that, while welcome, don’t ultimately add much. They include Stephen Fry as Holmes’ brother Mycroft and Noomi Rapace as French gypsy Sim. Rapace’s character has almost no bearing on the story, or in the machinations of the plot. She seems to exist merely to eat voraciously (a peculiar character trait that may not have been an intentional inclusion, but we see it enough to wonder if Rapace just really enjoyed the craft service team’s work). Guy Ritchie’s fast-forward-press-pause style of action choreography begins to grate after a while, though there is one nice chase sequence through the German woods. However, in the shadow of the far superior BBC program Sherlock, this new film just isn’t much cop. Which just goes to show how Downey Jr. and Law’s romance can elevate the material into something perfectly enjoyable. That’s true love.
Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows arrives in Australian cinemas January 5, 2012.