For pure switchblade smarts, A Game Of Shadows looks slack-jawed next to the BBC Sherlock co-scripted by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, which pulls off the wonderful trick of feeling both fresh and faithful at the same time. Despite the chess motifs running through it, Guy Ritchie’s steampunk actioner has little patience for cat’n’mouse wit.
By constructing chaotic, stylish set-pieces – including a shootout on a speeding train and a spectacular escape through a splintering forest that’s showered with artillery – Ritchie keeps the pace barrelling but can’t quite stave off sequel fatigue. It’s more of the same for more than two hours.
Slo-mo fight sequences pre-visualised in Holmes’ brain are a great conceit, but the thrill fades every time Ritchie repeats the trick. Likewise Robert Downey Jr. – always a better fit for billionaire playboy superheroes than for Baker street’s finest detective – seems to be going through the motions with a little too much nonchalance.
Whooshing through 1891 London and pre-war Europe, the runaway plot takes some time to point itself in a clear direction. And with no compulsive mystery behind Ritchie’s caffeinated style, we’re left clinging to a few tasty new additions. Juiciest of all is the full-tilt homoeroticism, with Holmes cross-dressing, flirting mercilessly with Jude Law’s Watson and later pushing the latter’s new wife, Mary (Kelly Reilly), off a train.
Stephen Fry suaves it up as Sherlock’s droll, clothes-averse older brother Mycroft, while The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Noomi Rapace has little to do as a gypsy fortune-teller. Ironically, while Ritchie’s noisy blockbuster keeps igniting punch-ups and explosions, it only feels truly forceful during the quieter moments between arch rivals Holmes and professor Moriarty.
As “the Napoleon of Crime”, Mad Men’s Jared Harris sets his own tone several decibels lower than the rest of the movie to produce a performance full of erudite menace. We get a good look at RDJ and Harris thumping each other in front of green screen during 35 minutes of Making of material on the Blu-ray.
There’s plenty more chat from the rest of the cast and crew, including Ritchie and a ‘chess advisor’ (really) discussing their love of the game and the detective duo clowning around on set. The Blu-ray’s ‘Maximum Movie Mode’ sees RDJ jump onto the screen to take us behind the scenes at various stages of the movie and, in a nice touch, there’s also the option to sync the hi-def disc with the Sherlock Holmes iphone apps.