Before Sherlock Holmes was going to be released in 2009, I had some concerns. How the hell was Guy Ritchie going to approach a series of Victorian era mystery books? Ultimately, Ritchie modernized Holmes as a bit of a blockbuster action hero, but the film still had the one thing that most associate with the character- brains that could match anyone else's brawn. The sequel, A Game of Shadows, does not stray far from the first film's style and characterizations and I'm very thankful for that.
Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is about to face two of the biggest challenges of his life. Having to cope with his partner John Watson (Jude Law) getting married and also having to stop the nefarious plans of James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Holmes has been on the tail of Moriarty since the events of the last film and he is now close to uncovering what the professor's ultimate scheme might be. Moriarty is attempting to start a war in Europe so he can profit off the sale of weapons to various armies. There is more to his plot that I won't ruin here, but it felt refreshing to see an antagonist not have the most basic of motivations. In Harris' portrayal, the character's villainy seems matched by his plans while most films usually have a villain who is acting out for the sake of acting out. Moriarty has nothing to prove, he is quite possibly the greatest criminal mastermind.
Then it is a good thing that Holmes is quite possibly the greatest crime-solving mastermind. Downey Jr. is back with his believable British accent and half-charming half-moody portrayal of the private detective. Once again, Downey Jr. and Law capture a chemistry that is more than the obvious quips, banter, and back-and-forth. The two characters genuinely feel like they've already been through the cases from Arthur Conan Doyle's books and this is just another adventure with some raised stakes at hand. Also returning from the previous film are Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan, and Rachel McAdams with new cast members Noomi Rapace and Stephen Fry, and of course, I'm happy that Guy Ritchie has returned.
Some can't stand his rapid and sudden changes in the speed of a shot. Now with a huge budget and special effects, Ritchie's auteuristic tendencies are only enhanced. Some might think he is over-doing it while others can't get enough. I'm somewhere in the middle. I feel like he imposed those famous "Ritchie-esque" scenes/shots at just the right moment and they also remained on the screen for the right amount of time . I just find it refreshing to see the Ritchie of "Snatch", "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels", and "RocknRolla" still present while delivering what is perhaps the best action-blockbuster of the year alongsides X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (also directed by Brits, coincidence?). Most importantly of all, this film was just as intelligent and thoughtful in its story and characters as it was exciting. I hope they make another one.