All the way through 2010's Sherlock Holmes, a shadowy figure lurked in the background who seemed to have a finger in every pie and used the mayhem Sherlock was involved with to his own ends. In A Game Of Shadows that figure steps forward, with Jared Harris as Professor James Moriarty, who is Sherlock's intellectual equal, even if he uses his brains for very different ends.
A series of explosions is rocking Europe and threaten to destabilise the already tenuous peace between the nations, with war a very real possibility. As you'd expect, Sherlock is soon deep in this conspiracy and has very quickly worked out that Moriarty is involved. However it's not enough to know who's behind it, as there's no tangible evidence. As a result Holmes must investigate and work out Moriarty's end game in order to stop the villain.
This sets Sherlock off on a quest across Europe, from Britain to France then on to Germany and Switzerland, tracking down exactly what Moriarty is up to and why he's so keen to cause political mayhem. However it soon becomes apparent that while the fate of Western Europe swirls around them, the men are as interested in the intellectual tussle they're become embroiled in as they are in the fate of the world around them.
Of course Jude Law's Watson is still around, even if he's not meant to be. He's supposed to leave Holmes' madcap investigations behind when he marries, but the bromance cannot be broken up that easily, especially as Sherlock knows that by going after Moriarty, the master villain will target Watson.
With A Game Of Shadows, it's very much the case that if you liked the first one, you'll probably like the second. There is a slight sense of diminishing returns, as what felt fresh and new first time around inevitably lacks the novelty it had. However an action-packed, witty and irreverent Downey Jr. as Sherlock is still a lot of fun, and there are some very good set-pieces and a few laugh out loud moments. It's difficult to escape the sense that a lot of the middle is filler which mainly exists because there needs to be something between the entertaining beginning and the exciting, well written ending. However it's amiable enough, and there are some fun bits and pieces, even if the middle hour doesn't really add up to an awful lot.
It's also a bit of a shame they replaced the feisty Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler with the rather more subdued presence of Noomi Rapace as the gypsy Sim. Whereas Irene had spunk (which is still there in the few scenes she has at the start of the movie), Sim mainly feels unnecessary. Indeed there are moments where you wonder if she was only added to the script so that Holmes & Watson don't seem even gayer than they already deliberately are.
Indeed the film spends an awful lot of time playing with exactly what Holmes' feelings for Watson are, so that while he may start out the film romancing Irene Adler, there's little doubt he'd prefer to spend his time with Watson. Exactly what's going on between them is deliberately left unspoken as it's fun to play with it, and there are times where it seems Sherlock is a genius about everything other than how to define his relationship with Watson. A Game Of Shadows also introduces Sherlock's brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who is slightly superfluous but suggests ‘Sherly' came from a household that didn't have much time for women, which is why he always looks to another man for companionship and camaraderie.
A Game Of Shadows is full-on popcorn entertainment, which may be a hair's breadth less fun that its predecessor but still provides more than enough wit, action and fast-paced thrills to make it worthwhile. Just ignore the fact the middle feels like filler and that if you start thinking about the plot Sherlock and Moriarty don't seems half as smart as they think they are, and you'll have a whole lot of fun.
As you'd hope, the Blu-ray provides excellent picture quality, with the inky, deep blacks particularly noticeable in the often high-contrast action scenes, where bright pools of light mix with darkness. It all looks superb, really bringing out the wonderful production design the film is filled with (and which has been a big part of why both Holmes movies have been such a success – presenting a fantasy Victorian Europe which still manages to feel rather gritty and real). The sound is also excellent, with the DTS soundtrack giving your speakers a workout when the action gets explosive.
However the real reason to get the film on Blu-ray is the superb Maximum Movie Mode. Warner Bros. really is good at these for their key releases, so that you watch the film and it's interspersed with relevant featurettes, interviews, stills and various other bits and pieces that pop up and give you a great overview of the film and its making. This one is hosted by Robert Downey Jr. who adds an extra bit of fun to the experience. It's all extremely well done and well worth spending some time with.
Overall Verdict: It may not be quite as much rollicking fun as the first instalment, but A Game Of Shadows is still an entertaining, worthy sequel, given a great Blu-ray release.
Maximum Movie Mode Hosted By Robert Downey Jr.
Picture In Picture
Reviewer: Tim Isaac
Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows is available on Blu-ray Triple play, DVD and digital download 14th May. Pre-order here
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