x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

In Cinemas: 'Game of Shadows' a fun steampunk romp

This lightweight but broadly enjoyable sequel sees Sherlock Holmes and Watson travel across Europe in a ripping adventure yarn to prevent the villanous Moriarty from instigating war.

Noomi Rapace as Simza Heron and Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Courtesy Warner Bros
Noomi Rapace as Simza Heron and Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Courtesy Warner Bros

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry
***

Two years ago, the first of Guy Ritchie's swashbuckling Baker Street action comedies, Sherlock Holmes, rebooted cinema's most celebrated detective for the 21st century, transforming Arthur Conan Doyle's famously cerebral London sleuth into an irreverent joker and two-fisted street fighter.

Crucially, the film also earned more than US$500 million (Dh1.8 billion) worldwide, landing its British director a much-needed blockbuster franchise after years in the gangster-movie doldrums.

Fast-tracked into production by its predecessor's success, the lightweight but broadly enjoyable sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows reunites Ritchie with his key cast in a ripping adventure yarn that borrows very freely from Conan Doyle's 1893 short story, The Final Problem.

The year is 1891, and the "Napoleon of crime" Professor Moriarty is secretly fuelling political unrest across Europe, hoping to provoke a war to profit from arms dealing. Holmes and his trusty sidekick Dr Watson pinball from London to Paris to Switzerland, facing deadly enemies at every turn.

Ritchie's Victorian steampunk romp boasts many engaging qualities, but subtlety and warmth are not among them. All smirking mischief and fruity English accent, Downey reprises his sparky yet one-dimensional portrait of Holmes, his brainpower buried under rock-star stubble and a fondness for fancy dress. Jude Law's long-suffering Watson is less cartoonish but slightly wooden.

At least Noomi Rapace, star of the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, brings a flash of fire as the gypsy fortune-teller Simza, while Stephen Fry does a Falstaffian comic turn as Mycroft Holmes, the detective's even smarter elder brother. Jared Harris gives an agreeably understated performance as Moriarty, his dry delivery exuding just the right amount of papery menace.

Downey and Law charge headlong through a noisy plot packed with fist-fights, terrorist bombs and artillery battles. And yet, despite drawing on a rich historical canvas of western Europe on the cusp of the 20th century, the dramatic scenes often feel oddly flat, the sets cramped, the colours drab. That said, Ritchie's hyperkinetic style comes into its own with a series of bravura action set pieces, including an extended gun battle on a steam train. Using slow-motion, freeze-frame and time-jumping effects, these artfully deconstructed antics are preposterous but highly enjoyable.

More impressive still is the climactic chess match between Holmes and Moriarty on a snowy castle balcony perched high above an Alpine waterfall, each opponent thinking several moves ahead, calculating the odds of moving from mental to physical combat. Culminating in a dramatic plunge lifted directly from Conan Doyle, this sequence is a virtuoso mix of brainy plotting and high-octane spectacle.

Overall, A Game of Shadows is not much better than it needs to be. But is it flashy, funny and action-packed enough to keep Ritchie's rebooted franchise alive until the next chapter? Categorically, my dear Watson.

artslife@thenational.ae