By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin December 16, 2011 at 1:02AM
As one who couldn’t stand the first Guy Ritchie-Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movie, I didn’t mind this one so much. For one thing, I knew what I was in for: more rapid-fire Downey wisecracks and meaningless disguises, more attention-getting, gimmicky action scenes. But at least it doesn’t look as if every major background has been painted on a computer screen. Better yet, Holmes is pitted against a worthy foe, the brilliantly sinister Professor Moriarty, played by Jared Harris, and enlists the aid of his older brother Mycroft, played by Stephen Fry. There are fleeting moments when this actually resembles an Arthur Conan Doyle story. (A Game of Shadows was written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney, who penned the sleeper Paper Man a couple of years back. The first Holmes had a too-many-cooks team of credited writers.)
The production is still needlessly overlong and overblown, a far cry from your father’s (or even your cousin’s) conception of the master detective. But it’s certainly lively and has clever moments that involve Holmes’ keen powers of observation, and his ability to think his way out of sticky situations.
The relationship between Holmes and Dr. Watson (Jude Law), which I found so annoying in the first film, is better delineated here, as one actually senses their mutual affection, even as Watson prepares to leave his adventurous friend behind to embark upon married life.
Sweden's Noomi Rapace, who skyrocketed to fame as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has a rather thankless role as a gypsy who plays an unwitting role in Moriarty’s evil plans. Rachel McAdams returns, all too briefly, as the duplicitous Irene Adler.
As for Ritchie’s trademark visual razzle-dazzle, some of it is impressive, and some of it becomes repetitive after a while. But if, like me, you know what you’re getting into—or, unlike me, enjoyed the first Holmes outing—I doubt you’ll be bored or dissatisfied. An elaborate production in every respect, A Game of Shadows definitely gives you your money’s worth.