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SPOILER WARNING

DETECTIVE WORKS
In 2009, director Guy Ritchie moved away from sometimes questionable gangster films to release Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. The film was a little bit of a revelation so here we are two years later with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Downey Jr and Law are back as Holmes and Watson but this time we are joined by Jared (Mad Men) Harris as Moriarty, Noomi Rapace (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as gypsy Madam Simza and Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes. Moriarty, a respected professor at Cambridge, has a plan to manipulate the world’s powers for his own ends and so it is up to Holmes and Watson with the assistance of Madam Simza to prevent this happening. Watson has decided to take the plunge and marry his sweetheart Mary (Kelly Reilly) but Holmes has endangered both his friend and his new bride by interfering with his evil nemesis’s plans. A Game of Shadows moves Holmes even further away from Doyle’s source material than the first film but the fact is that it just doesn’t matter. Ritchie, with the help of Downey Jr and Law, has created a pulp adventure tale which is fun and entertaining to watch and beautifully shot and edited. Harris is exceptionally sinister as Moriarty although you wish he had a little more to do in this film and the chemistry between Downey Jr and Law is further developed. Fry as Holmes’ eccentric brother provides a few laughs and acquits himself decently. Paul Anderson as Moriarty’s henchman, crackshot Sebastian Moran, works well on screen. There’s no love interest for Holmes here unlike the first film and Rapace as the gypsy whose brother holds the key is very watchable. It is quite refreshing that the script didn’t throw Holmes and her into bed but uses her as another member of the team. The location shooting in Switzerland and France look spectacular on screen and Ritchie with production designer Sarah Greenwood also synthesise a London that looks fresh and yet familiar at the same time. Ritchie tips his hat to Doyle’s end for Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls but leaves things open for a third instalment, which would be welcome if the quality remained as consistent as this. A Game of Shadows is a superior sequel to its progenitor, pure unadulterated fun with a strong cast and a real sense of adventure to it…

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DETECTIVE FRICTION
Guy Ritchie’s films have not exactly been the most consistent of any modern director so I admit when his Sherlock Holmes was announced with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, I was more than a little skeptical. While his debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was accomplished but unconvincing, the followup Snatch was very entertaining. But with Revolver and Rock ‘n’ Rolla, he seemed to be nothing more than a middle class bloke obsessed with London gangsters. Sherlock Holmes is his best film to date, directed with an assured hand and with a very likable cast including Downey Jr in the title role, continuing his resurrection as one of the most charismatic male actors in modern Hollywood and even Jude Law looks comfortable and at ease here as Dr Watson. Ritchie has remade Doyle’s Holmes as a man of action, who works out adversaries’ weak points in fights and then acts on them while Watson is a veteran of the Afghanistan War at the end of the Victorian era. The film doesn’t waste any time, setting the scene with the capture of upper class loony Lord Blackwood (played with vulpine grace by Mark Strong), who has an appointment with the scaffold but informs anyone who’ll listen that he’ll rise from the grave and turn the world upside-down. Holmes is skeptical but when Blackwood’s body disappears from its home in Brompton Cemetery, the detective and his partner are thrown into a mystery that seems to have metaphysical connections at its core. Ritchie introduces a thinly veined Masonic analogue at the centre of this conundrum. Blackwood and his compatriots intend to replace the government with a ruling council of their own choosing and so Holmes and Watson are in a race to prevent this from happening. While the script and characterisation bear no resemblance to any of the film’s forebears, Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes barrels along at a very nice pace with some decent interplay between Downey Jr and Law and some very impressive visual flourishes from the director and his production designer. The scene where we see Holmes fight a significantly larger man in a bareknuckle boxing match makes it feel like a steampunk Victorian James Bond. There are flaws here: why you would have to ride along the river when making your way from Baker Street to Pentonville Prison, just so you can foreshadow the film’s conclusion, is clumsy and lazy and sometimes Downey Jr’s eccentric Holmes can be a little irritating but for the most part, this movie is an entertaining and engaging modern action adventure. It sets things up for a sequel, rumoured to feature Holmes’s classic adversary Moriarty played by Brad Pitt. It feels like they’re trying to set up a franchise here and this would not be a bad thing for cinema at the minute. Perhaps the fact that it was only directed rather than written by Ritchie has steered it away from the problems of some of his worst films. Sherlock Holmes is grand adventure for the Christmas period…