Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes
Jude Law as Dr. John Watson
Noomi Rapace as Madam Simza Heron
Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler
Jared Harris as Professor James Moriarty
Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes
Paul Anderson as Colonel Sebastian Moran
Kelly Reilly as Mary Watson
Geraldine James as Mrs. Hudson
Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade
William Houston as Constable Clark
Wolf Kahler as Doctor Hoffmanstahl
Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey, Jr.'s big budget attempt at Sherlock Holmes was a refreshing change of pace from the normal attempts at the character, taking the unlikely step of bringing in a Hollywood action film sensibility and mixing it with the mythos surprisingly well. A lot of that has to be given to Downey, whose manic screen charisma seldom fails to entertain. Can they pull it off twice?
Yes and no. Downey's annoying, exasperating, probably crazy interpretation of Holmes as a karate chopping action detective is as before, but there is a good deal of sequelitis at work in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." The instinct to provide 'the same but more' tries to overwhelm the audience through more bickering, more explosions and more slow motion, but ends up often underwhelming instead.
When last we left the intrepid consulting detective, his longtime comrade in arms Dr. Watson (Jude Law) had moved out in preparation of his upcoming nuptials and Holmes himself had just learned of the existence of a criminal mastermind as clever and devious as he was - Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris).
It seems like a good idea, one that has been pulled off to good effect recently in similar films. With the set-up of the world and its rules out of the way, the arch villain is introduced, free to plunder his way through the hero's world, destroying everything he (and the audience) thought was untouchable and greatly upping the stakes through sheer villainy. Harris brings just the right amount of quiet menace to Moriarty to fit the character, though probably not enough to make him the showpiece his set up requires. Particularly since he leaves so much of his dirty work to his sharpshooter henchman Colonel Moran (Paul Anderson).
But, neither he nor Downey nor Law can escape from the gravity well of bad sequel decisions gradually sucking "A Game of Shadows" down. Ritchie and his writers have a taken a determined look at what worked the best in the first "Sherlock Holmes" and proceeded to beat those original areas of pleasure like a dead race horse. Holmes is more narcissistic and wears more over the top and ridiculous disguises than before; there is more slow motion and Holmes analysis, more action sequences, and far less sense. It's as if the film is wearing a sign around its neck the entire time reminding you how much you liked the original. What's new is no longer new, however, and familiarity has definitely begun to breed contempt.
And unfortunately little of what has been added takes the place of what was lost. The plot of the first film was not its strongest feature but it is positively brilliant compared to the sequel, which sees Holmes and Watson attempting to find a missing gypsy and in the process stumbling onto a plot to start the first World War.
Which is even more ridiculous than it sounds and is mainly a contrivance to introduce the new female lead Madam Simza ("Dragon Tattoo's" Noomi Rapace), who has absolutely nothing else to do for the entire film and is only around to provide the film's required female presence after McAdams' Irene Adler is sent packing early. And she's not the only one stuck in that role as the filmmakers have decided not to miss any opportunity to introduce other Holmes characters--such as older brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry)--despite not having anything for them to do. They're just there because the rules of sequels have dictated they must be.
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" isn't bad, it's just a litany of what makes mediocre sequels mediocre. All forward momentum for the characters is jettisoned, replaced instead with repetition. Everything even vaguely interesting or entertaining from the first film is brought back with such gusto it quickly stops being entertaining and becomes rote. It's still a decently entertaining movie, but the thrill is gone.