Director Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" film of 2009 seemed to split viewers. Some applauded the strong cast, solid production values and interesting blend of mystery and action. Others argued Holmes was depicted as being too reliant on his fighting abilities, skills that are only alluded to in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about the iconic sleuth.
"Game of Shadows" probably won't make any converts out of the second group, although the inclusion of Holmes' nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, will be a welcome one for Holmes traditionalists. The first group, however, will be thrilled with this full-throttle follow-up that is faster, funnier and more compelling than its predecessor.
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law reprise their roles as Holmes and his sidekick Dr. John Watson, respectively. Holmes' adversary this go-round is none other than Moriarty (Jared Harris of TV's "Mad Men"), a genius professor with nefarious plans I won't go into (it is a mystery, after all). Holmes' investigation takes him and Watson on a European tour through France, Germany and Switzerland.
The duo finds assistance in the form of knife-wielding gypsy Madam Simza Heron (Swedish actress Noomi Rapace of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"). Heron hopes Holmes and Watson will help her locate her missing brother as Moriarty's scheme rolls closer to fruition. Holmes has met his match in the brilliant Moriarty, but danger and threat of death won't deter Holmes from out-strategizing his enemy.
Downey Jr. and Law make an exceptional tandem. The top-notch actors play off each other incredibly well and their witty banter feels remarkably natural. Ritchie ratchets up the action in "Shadows," much of it beautifully choreographed and nicely paced. Ritchie has a tendency to rely on both fast- and slow-motion techniques, tricks that work well in showcasing Holmes' observation skills and quick-thinking abilities.
Harris is an inspired casting choice as Doyle's legendary villain. He plays the part with a quiet calm that is at once confident and creepy. There are a plethora of clues sprinkled throughout the film that will surely keep viewers on their toes, and Holmes' wide array of disguises are entertaining. And, akin to the first film, the musical score by Hans Zimmer is tremendous.
There is more at stake in the action scenes here than in the previous picture, and Ritchie doesn't shy away from throwing Holmes and Watson right into the mix. "Shadows" is like the cinematic equivalent to a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats -- the adult in me likes the thought-provoking mystery, but the kid in me likes seeing Sherlock kick a thug in the sternum.