It’s a touch disappointing then to find that Ritchie’s follow up plays like a third or fourth sequel to the first film; when ideas are exhausted, stunt casting abounds and the patter is familiar and witless; it’s quite staggering how quickly this series runs out of steam. The two leads seem to be going through the motions and the momentum of the previous film isn’t enough to carry them, or the story, through. Jared Harris is a fine actor, more than capable of causing a change of trousers with a chilling stare but here is lost under both the weight of expectation and an implausible characterisation which implies genius by a posh accent and the ability to threaten in chess terms.
In his haste to get us on board for this country hopping adventure the director throws characters and confusion at us from the beginning and though it’s an engaging ride at first there creeps in a feeling that we’ll not see anything new here, the relationships and visual flourishes are stuck. So, we’re given a number of new faces but little else. Perhaps the only mystery of note is why Noomi Rapace is involved at all. Whereas Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler offered a genuinely interesting foil to Holmes (and this has nothing to do with gender, Adler was a great choice as a third narrative drive in the first film while the gypsy gang leader Sim does nothing more than look good in a floppy hat) Rapace is giving almost nothing to do and in one scene in an outside cafe as Holmes and Watson talk over their plans she sits next to them as the exposition goes back and forth saying nothing. Literally nothing. In fact she looks a little bored and it seems that the crew were so busy geeing themselves up for another pyrotechnic exercise that the actual plot gets lost under a thick fog of inconsequent parlour tricks and cut and paste stock characters.
Whereas the first film held wit as the most powerful weapon with which to fight the ceaseless battle against the criminally insane (with Holmes often playfully stepping over the line himself at times) A Game of Shadows has an artillery which would make Michael Bay proud and more snail’s pace slo-mo to heighten the impact of the bullet ballet (instead of, perhaps, actual engagement) and the senses are blunted to anything happening on screen.
It plays like a collection of set-pieces shaken up and pulled from a bag before each being pinned to a map of Europe so disconnecting and utterly pointless does the task feel. The two year interim has somehow sapped the creative juices from the enterprise and we are left with the delightful banter from the first film between Holmes and Watson lifeless and inconsequential and not even the excellent casting of Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes can save it. And when a naked Stephen Fry can’t save your film then questions need to be asked.
There is a neat Maximum Movie Mode which is a picture in picture behind the scenes/interview track which plays in time with the film. I hate to say it but at time this was far more enjoyable than the film itself.