Baker Street’s brainy badass

It’s Sherlock Holmes on max­i­u­mum over­drive in this en­joy­able se­quel, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

YOU WAIT A cen­tury for a sat­is­fy­ingly rad­i­cal rein­ven­tion of Sherlock Holmes, then two come along in the space of six months.

Guy Ritchie’s ca­reer-sal­vaging Sherlock Holmes, a hit in late 2009, and the BBC’S Sherlock, gor­geously writ­ten by Steven Mof­fat and Mark Gat­tiss, took the con­sult­ing de­tec­tive in two very dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. The film of­fered a mix of steam­punk hys­te­ria and Sax Rohmer-in­spired ex­ploita­tion. The pop­u­lar TV se­ries, de­spite be­ing fired by con­tem­po­rary tech­nol­ogy, is as cere­bral as any pre­vi­ous ver­sion of the sto­ries.

This sec­ond film in the fran­chise puts even greater dis­tance be­tween it­self and the BBC’S ex­cel­lent ef­fort. Part one cer­tainly pro­vided enough coal-fired vi­o­lence and breath­less pur­suit. A Game of Shad­ows is, how­ever, so in­sanely pumped up the viewer may, af­ter puff­ing through its breezy 128 min­utes, de­mand a nice lie down on a chintz-cov­ered daybed. Some but­tered muffins please, Mrs Hud­son.

In­deed, the lengthy mid­dle se­quence plays very like a re­cent se­quence of videogames. Get hold of the sniper ri­fle and take out the guards. Now crouch down and cross the bul­let-rid­dled court­yard. Oh, no. The op­po­si­tion have con­trol of a large-cal­i­bre field gun. You were hop­ing for Call of Duty: Sherlock War­fare? Raise a glass. That’s what you’ve got.

Still, fans of Ed­war­dian and Vic­to­rian pop­u­lar lit­er­a­ture will find plenty to savour here. Set in the last years of the 19th cen­tury, the story (some­what pre­ma­turely) nods to­wards those break­neck es­pi­onage nov­els – The Rid­dle of the Sands, The Thirty-nine Steps – that ex­ploited grow­ing para­noia in the run-up to the first World War.

A crown prince has just died in mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances. The au­thor­i­ties be­lieve the death to be sui­cide, but Holmes sus­pects that the un­for­tu­nate chap is the first vic­tim in a vast Europe-wide con­spir­acy. (Fol­low­ers of the id­i­otic 9/11 “Truth Move­ment” will nod sagely at the even­tual so­lu­tion.) Un­for­tu­nately, our hero, played again with swal­lowed vow­els by Robert Downey Jr, is about to lose the ser­vices of his loyal col­lab­o­ra­tor. Dr Wat­son (Jude Law) is look­ing for­ward to his im­pend­ing mar­riage and an in­trigue-free hon­ey­moon in lovely Brighton.

Those plans be­gin to un­ravel on the stag night. Holmes en­coun­ters a gypsy mys­tic (Noomi Ra­pace), who has be­come un­wit­tingly in­volved with the con­spir­acy, and those in­ves­ti­ga­tions bring chaos and vi­o­lence to Wat­son’s big evening out. His poor wife is sub­se­quently flung from a train. The doc­tor then finds him­self dodg­ing an­ar­chists (or are they?) in var­i­ous cor­ners of mid­dle Europe.

In truth, you may as well at­tempt to sum­marise the habits of the Higgs bo­son as sketch the de­tails of this film’s hec­tic, ca­reer­ing plot. A hun­dred su­per­fi­cially in­trigu­ing puz­zles are thrown up and, be­fore the viewer has time to pon­der a so­lu­tion, swept aside to per­mit yet an­other out­break of ex­trav­a­gantly shot, Cgi-driven vi­o­lence.

Much of the Co­nan Doyle’s trade­mark char­ac­ter­is­tics re­main: the hero’s self­ish ec­cen­tric­ity, the edgy bro­mance be­tween doc­tor and sleuth, the taste for con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous lowlife. But the hap­haz­ard struc­ture would ap­pal and be­fud­dle Sherlock’s tweedy cre­ator.

None­the­less, the se­quel gets by on busy pace, sly humour and, more than any­thing else, nearflaw­less cast­ing. Downey, Jr, though un­sure in his ac­cent, re­mains agree­ably de­ranged. Law does a good line in out­rage. Jared Har­ris, less weighty and less shiny than pre­vi­ous oc­cu­piers of the post, is very im­pres­sive as Holmes’s arch-en­emy Mo­ri­arty.

And what of My­croft? Well, Holmes’s brother is usu­ally seen as a slightly su­pe­rior know-it-all with un­stop­pable ac­cess to the up­per reaches of Bri­tish so­ci­ety. He’s played here by Stephen Fry. What more could you ask for?

The gypsy and the pri­vate eye: Noomi Ra­pace and Robert Downey Jr

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