The great success of Guy Ritchie's 2009 Sherlock Holmes was to make Arthur Conan Doyle's gimlet-eyed detective, first introduced to readers in 1887, into a viable 21st-century blockbuster star. The great compromise, aggravated in Ritchie's new Holmes adventure, was to do so at the expense of what made Conan Doyle's hero, and his world, unique. Game of Shadows revisits Holmes and Dr. Watson (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, returning) on the eve of Watson's much-protested-by-Holmes wedding as a wave of assassinations and bombings rock Europe, threatening to goad France and Germany into armed confrontation. The film's finale, its villain, and not much else come from Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem." The acts of terror have been arranged by Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), a calculating profiteer seeking to plunge Europe into world war a quarter-century ahead of schedule, whom Holmes and Watson must cross the Continent to foil. Although Downey Jr. makes a radiant Holmes, the rapport between he and Law, who has never located a tone for his Watson, hasn't improved since their last outing. The gamesmanship between Holmes and Moriarty is not handled much better, built around a metaphorical chess match as hackneyed as the film's subtitle. Lackluster screenwriting and the absence of actorly communion are breezed past with monotonous banter, as is the fleetingly visible plot. Like the first Ritchie Holmes, the period production design is lavish, but it's all sauce, no meat—that is, the usual multiplex stuff, extracted from a most remarkable source.
The architect of war (Harris, left) and the man who would stop him (Downey Jr.).
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Dec. 16. Rated PG-13. 121 minutes.