It's elementary: Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr.'s version of Sherlock Holmes is a 7 percent solution of adrenaline suspended in testosterone, a character that bears the name but is younger, cooler and moves with the stealth of a Victorian ninja. For strict adherents to Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories, Ritchie and Downey have co-opted their hero's name for something fairly alien, but Doyle's Holmes was an eccentric who kept “his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper.” In other words, Downey is perfect for the role.
For “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” Downey proves again that no deerstalker hats are needed to play the detective. In this loose assembly of ideas cribbed in part from Doyle's “The Final Problem,” Holmes and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) are embroiled in Watson's bachelor party when the first evidence of a sinister plot presents itself. A plot is in place to pit the nations of Europe against one another, and Holmes' archnemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris of “Mad Men”), stands to profit from a constant state of war.
So, shortly after the good doctor exchanges vows with Mary (Kelly Reilly), Holmes whisks him away on an adventure that, with the assistance of gypsy fortune teller Sim (Noomi Rapace), takes them on a breakneck ride through Europe, from the catacombs under Paris to a climactic meeting of European leaders in a Swiss castle. Each set piece is rendered with a mixture of antique realism and romantic steam-punk imagery. Ritchie beautifully creates visions of 1891 Paris and London that deftly mix recognizable architecture with cityscapes that met their ruin long ago.
With “A Game of Shadows,” Downey and Ritchie spend much of their energy on Holmes' excellence as a master of disguise, with Downey's Holmes employing elaborate bodysuits to blend into walls and furniture and even going drag in a well-executed scene. Just in terms of his boundless energy and attitude, Downey's Holmes is not far removed from Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow — the only difference is that “A Game of Shadows” is worthy of such a strong character. By surrounding Downey with strong players such as Law, Harris and Stephen Fry as Sherlock's equally eccentric brother Mycroft, Ritchie fills “A Game of Shadows” with real characters instead of mere foils.
Doyle purists might carp that the original Holmes did not possess such otherworldly sureness of foot or the aptitude for superhuman martial arts — a fair critique, to be sure. But “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” noticeably improves on the original film, giving Downey a coherent story based on Doyle's ideas and a villain worthy of his wits. Putting that together with Downey's insurmountable charisma, “A Game of Shadows” has more substance than its predecessor.
— George Lang
“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry.
(Intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material)