Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie delivered a flawed but enjoyable new take on one of British literature's most loved characters. Whilst the film was far from perfect, it felt like a solid platform upon which to launch future installments in a new franchise where the faults could be remedied and the successful elements - not least the central performance from Robert Downey Jr. - could be capitalised upon. Unfortunately, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows almost comprehensively fails to do that.
The film catches up with Holmes (Downey Jr.) investigating links between a series of crimes across Europe and Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) following the tip he received from Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) at the end of the first film. Watson (Jude Law) meanwhile is preparing to marry his fiancée Mary (Kelly Reilly), but soon becomes embroiled in Holmes and Moriarty's game of cat and mouse.
Downey Jr. as Holmes again delivers the strongest performance here, slipping comfortably back into the mannerisms and personality he successfully established in Sherlock Holmes. It's unfortunate that Holmes this time is regularly written as self-parodical of the character Downey Jr. created, adopting a series of ridiculous and entirely unconvincing disguises throughout the film and transforming the character from manic genius to harebrained clown. Law too falls back into the character of Watson comfortably, but suffers from sharing less screen time with Holmes than in the first film and feeling like a half-hearted straight man to Holmes' fool when he does.
Elsewhere, the casting is a mixed bag. The biggest improvement from the first film is the reduction of McAdams' role as Irene Adler to not much more than a cameo. Noomi Rapace replaces McAdams as the film's main female character, and is much stronger than her predecessor at the points when she is given something to do. Jared Harris as Moriarty does well enough, but feels somewhat forgettable considering he is playing Holmes' archenemy. Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother, is sure to raise a smile in his first scene despite the fact that he is essentially playing the character as himself; the appeal is short-lived however as it's clear the plot has nothing of worth for Fry's character to do, epitomised in a scene between Mycroft and Mary which Fry inexplicably delivers naked. Pointless and unfunny.
The action scenes that irked in the first film are more overblown here to the point of overindulgence. Each sequence essentially comes across as an excuse for Ritchie to include bigger and more powerful guns than were seen in the last point of action. The excessive use of slow motion, particularly in one scene towards the end of the second act, is also distracting and just serves to make the film come across as lacking in craft or depth.
Whilst the story here is arguably stronger than that seen in the first film, the cinematic execution of A Game Of Shadows makes it considerably less enjoyable than Sherlock Holmes. Despite setting up several elements with which he could run and make a sequel superior to the original, Ritchie instead squanders most of the potential held and creates a film which is sometimes no better than the first, but more often inferior. The biggest failing of A Game Of Shadows, however, is that it manages to take a literary character known for his ingenious intellect and churn out a film which regularly feels really quite brainless.