Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the period adventure from director Guy Ritchie (or the ex Mr Madonna as he will probably always be nicknamed) featuring the Victorian super sleuth, is one of those films which it’s hard to describe. You know you should really hate it, but sneakily you can’t help finding it fun.
The storyline is actually pretty basic, involving Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) coming up against his old adversary Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who has the usual megalomaniac plans for world domination. After his sidekick Dr Watson (Jude Law) gets married to his sweetheart Mary (Kelly Reilly), Holmes is left to go off and tackle Moriarty alone. However when the dastardly professor threatens Watson and his new new bride, the doctor is left little choice than to help his old friend put a stop to Moriarty and his sinister machinations.
Like fans of other fictional sleuths such as Poirot or Miss Marple, those of Arthur Conan Doyle’s pipe smoking detective will have their own favourite interpretation. Some prefer Peter Cushing’s playful sardonicism in Hammer’s peerless production of the The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), which has the seriousness you expect from the original stories, leavened with just the right degree of dry wit to keep the film fresh even when viewed today. Or take legendary Russian director Igor Maslennikov’s epic versions of the tales soon to be released on DVD, considered by many to be the best depiction of Holmes ever to appear on film.
Ritchie and co on the other hand take a lighter approach which, despite having an edgy element, ultimately defies believability – which is where the film fails. Sherlock Holmes, like all the best detectives, took his business seriously – after all murder and crime, particularly on a world-wide scale, is no laughing matter. Everything in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows however – though flawlessly executed as you’d expect with a Hollywood production, from the grand set pieces and sumptuous period costumes to a wonderful supporting cast of British thespians including Law, Stephen Fry, as Holmes’ brother Mycroft, and Geraldine James as his long-suffering housekeeper Mrs Hudson – are all entered into with tongue so firmly in cheek that in he end it all appears a bit of a joke.
The problem is that this is Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr’s show – a fact which you’re never allowed to forget. With Downey camping it up as centre of attraction at every opportunity, whilst Ritchie orchestrates proceedings in order to get in as many trademark explosions and fight scenes as possible, the film finishes leaving the viewer in a blurry, though not altogether unpleasant, haze.
As with its 2009 predecessor, there is nothing actually wrong with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. In actual fact it’s quite an innocuous way to spend a couple of hours if you’re at a loose end some evening. For the purists however there a little too much bang without enough of the fizz.