I was so prepared to not like this sequel of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes reboot. The previous film, while continuing Robert Downey Jr's mercurial return to form, was a mostly plodding exercise, and - confession here - reading the early reviews of this instalment didn't leave a lot of room for encouragement.
So much for believing the herd. Its not that "Game of Shadows" is great (or even on a level with any of the fine BBC TV dramatizations on the famous sleuth), but it does manage to reproduce a fair amount of the crackling, edgy feel of Ritchie's now-revered crime capers ('Snatch" Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels").
It also liberally "borrows" from another, more established movie franchise - James Bond - though with mixed results. A harum-scarum opening sequence reunites the cocky but literate Holmes with his more modulated (but in this case, no less physical) sidekick, the soon-to-be-married Dr. Watson. The nuptials are barely concluded (consummated?) before Watson and his bride - with Holmes startling everyone in drag - are roughed up, shot at and violently separated (she is in fact thrown from a train).
The rest of the plot and action really needs no detailing, but the production is visibly better this time around, and the two leads have also improved markedly in terms of their interaction. They're more than ably supported by the likes of Stephen Fry (as Holmes' eccentric brother Mycroft) and Swedish breakout star Noomi Rapace, the original "'Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" as a gypsy fortune teller in search of her brother. In Jared Harris (son of acting legend Richard) the producers have found a more than capable villain as the megalomaniac math professor with a penchant for classical music.
As hitherto mentioned, the film follows the Bond mode of outlandish action sequences, but Ritchie does sweep the viewer along quite handily, particularly in a running battle/chase scene through a dense German forest. The plot unravels as expected with a clever bit of symmetry surrounding an allegory from one of Schubert's pieces.
By film's end - with the obligatory opening for a forthcoming third, instalment, we - check that, I - get the sense that things are beginning to gel for this movie property in a way that can hopefully satisfy both the audiences and the studio honchos alike.