I sympathize with the appeal of sequels. Good sequels raise the bar, elevating the stakes to make it more fun than the first film. Unfortunately, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is not one of those sequels.
Guy Ritchie’s bigger budgeted follow up to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes is a poorly done rehash that uses plot points as excuses to move from one piece of unoriginal slow motion fight choreography to the next. The ultra-slow-motion bullet shots are wow-inducing effects, but on the narrative level the film shoots blanks. To label Sherlock Holmes 2 as a bad movie would be harsh. It's not bad, just that it is an earth-shattering disappointment, a high gloss bore that gives you an ice cream headache.
The lack of novelty in this sequel is astounding. And the story is so convoluted I doubt that it’d make much sense even if you had the time or interest to concentrate. It is 1899, Watson (Jude Law) prepares to get married to his fiancé, and Holmes (Downey Jr) is obsessed with a Maths professor named Moriarty (Jared Harris), whom he believes to be responsible for the murders of a string of business magnates. Holmes intercepts a letter meant for fortune teller Madame Sizma (Noomi Rapace) that sends him and Watson on a quest to stop the bombing at a Switzerland peace summit, and quash Moriarty’s plan of jeopardizing the entire Western civilization. The first film was fascinating because of the supernaturally-inclined villain, but Moriarty in the sequel is merely a standard-issue conspiring bad guy with delusions of grandeur.
There is more CGI wizardry, more fights, more stunts, more back and forth between Holmes and Watson. But more, in this case, adds up to less, and Ritchie makes sure the audience is turned numb. The video game-like jump cutting punches and kicks get tedious, and it becomes hard to believe that they were choreographed by Guy Ritchie, even though he is to blame for the inception of this style. The 19th century London production design is amazing, but there is so much thrown at you with little plot payoff that it makes for an endless charade of pointless expensive buffoonery.
Just like in the first film, Sherlock Holmes 2 contains the crackerjack comic touch of its diminutive star Downey Jr. You’d have to be made of stone to not to be entertained by him. Jude Law is a lot more jaded, quite like the bloated, repetitive film. Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is hilariously uncomfortable in her English speaking role. Eddie Marsan as Lestrade, Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler and Geraldine James as Holmes' landlady are wasted in thankless miniscule turns. Stephen Fry as Holmes' brother Mycroft in his extended cameo nudges in a few fun bits. Jared Harris is elegantly menacing as Dr. Moriarty. But that’s little consolation amidst the meandering plot and aimless set pieces.
If you love CGI razzle-dazzle and recurrent eye candy action, Sherlock Holmes 2 delivers. But ultimately you’ll have witnessed style over substance. Downey Jr is an exceptionally engaging actor, and he deserves much better than this elementary sequel.
(First published in Mid Day)