Watson is actually about to be married - a fact that clearly grates on dear old Holmes who loathes losing his wingman to a life of eternal domestic bliss. After meeting with Moriarty face to face, Holmes learns that Watson and his new bride’s lives could in danger should he continue to pursue the Professor’s actions. On the Watsons’ honeymoon, Sherlock arrives just in time to save the day and thwart their murder. Unfortunately for the happy couple, Holmes then also throws Watson’s bride from the train for her own safety. An understandably annoyed Watson is left with no real choice and grudgingly signs up for one last adventure with his old pal. Before you know it, the duo are off to Paris to begin their case. First they must find a mysterious Gypsy lady called Simza (Noomi Rapace) who Holmes already saved from assassins on Watson’s stag do and an intercepted letter suggests she is integral to their investigation.
The exact details of the plot are not of great importance here really. All you need to know is that Moriarty is involved in buying up munitions companies and is seemingly provoking a world war in order to capitalise on the increased demand for weaponry. Meanwhile Holmes and Watson banter their way across Europe dodging explosions and assassins while Holmes puts the pieces of the puzzle together as we go. Leave it to the expert to explain why Moriarty is involved in the terrorist attacks and more importantly how he can be stopped.
There’s far less sleuthing and quiet musing than in the original books, this is an all-action Sherlock who prefers to really get his hands dirty and isn’t shy about using his fists when needed. This isn’t to say that the plot isn’t interesting or clever, only that it plays out more like a polished Hollywood action movie rather than a thought provoking mystery.
The whole movie is very stylised and laced with Ritchie’s directorial quirks. The use of flo-mo and bullet time technology is used perhaps a little too much but often still to fairly good effect. For example the sequence where our heroes are escaping from a munitions factory through a desolate wood whilst shells explode around them does look fairly impressive. Some of the bone crunching fight scenes do get a little tiresome and once you’ve seen Holmes mind-map an entire fight sequence before it has even happened once, you’ve seen him do it a millions times.
The real driving force behind the film though is its cast. Jared Harris is superb as the fiendishly intelligent Moriarty who packs a genuine malevolence and appears more than capable of outsmarting even Holmes. Stephen Fry pops up as Sherlock’s (or Shirley as he calls him) elder brother Mycroft and the national treasure has great fun playing an unflappable clever-clogs. The two leads really steal the show however, with Law and in particular Downey Jnr both on fine form. The two actors share a great onscreen chemistry and the exchanges between the two of them are often amusing, “How did you know I would find you?” “You didn't find me, you collapsed a building on me.” Downey Jnr’s Holmes is a loveable blend of petulant man-child and debonair buccaneer. He is capable of great intelligence and charm one minute and then incredible immaturity the next. One false step for me though was the character of Simza. Noomi Rapace does perfectly well with what she is given but the character does seem a little superfluous and underwritten. It feels at times like she was merely added in just so they could have an attractive young lady for the posters.
The climactic scene set atop of a snow-covered Swiss mountain beside Reichenbach Waterfalls, the inclusion of which should tip off Holmes aficionados as to a likely major plot point, is particularly well done. Holmes and his nemesis share a literal and mental game of chess as the two engage in a battle of wits not only on the chessboard but also as they try to second guess the other and show that they are truly in control of the situation. The two actors do sterling work and ensure the tension is ramped up right until the very end.
A Game of Shadows is a slick and amusing, if easilyforgettable, piece of popcorn cinema and it would be nosurprise if Ritchie got the band back together for a third entry in the franchise in the future.