The year is 1891, and Europe has been shaken by a series of terrorist attacks which are being blamed on nationalists and anarchists, though the world's greatest detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) has other ideas and is in Strasbourg to investigate a lead, just as another bomb is detonated. Someone, thinks he, is trying to brew a war between France and Germany, and the person he has been following is his foe Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), but she is ready for him and to prevent him following her any further she sets her burly henchmen on Holmes. However, it's not her he should be worried about...
The character of Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) was teased at the end of the previous Sherlock Holmes movie from this team, but here he definitely arrived with a purpose in this follow-up to the surprise runaway hit which audiences had flocked to in between Downey's Iron Man films, wanting to get more of the star who had enjoyed such a renaissance after formerly being notorious as a hellraiser heading nowhere fast. Somehow he shook himself up, clambered back up the ladder of success and if anything became more famous than he had ever been before, that insouciant charm perfect for a big, splashy movie which didn't need to take itself entirely seriously.
Whether that was correct for Sherlock Holmes was a different matter, although you could argue he was fine for this incarnation, the sequel as the first instalment very much a twenty-first century blockbuster by the numbers, practically designed mathematically around a formula stemming from the buddy movies of the eighties. No surprise, then, to see Joel Silver's name in the producer's chair, for this was very much a period rendering of his style of action flick, and you could have set A Game of Shadows in the modern day with a few tweaks to the background and details and it would have played out just as well.
Around the time of the Guy Ritchie-directed Holmes entries there was an increase in interest in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character as the BBC had a major hit on television with their Benedict Cumberbatch-fronted version and the States got into the act with Elementary, but neatly none of them seemed to be rivals and audiences took to them as variations they could all take onboard without one eclipsing the other. What you may have noticed in the movies, on the other hand, was that the mystery element was less important than the need to get to the next action setpiece, so while there were references to the source stories, they were mixed up in a Holmesian mishmash as background noise to the Downey hijinks.
Which was fair enough if this had been a spoof of some type, but they wanted us to see it as a sincere and valid addition to the canon of the finest fictional sleuth ever devised, so you would get some humorous bickering between Downey and his Watson, Jude Law, as if they were Eddie Murphy and Judge Reinhold in a Victorian Beverly Hills Cop spin-off just to denote the manly affection they have for one another, then some low key conversation about how grave the situation was - Stephen Fry often filled that need as brother Mycroft Holmes, when he wasn't being nude that was - and then the spectacle we all wished to see as the heroes negotiate an assassination attempt on a train or get into a selection of gunfights with ever-larger weaponry. Interestingly, it all built up to a more muted finale than anticipated, courting a more intellectual tone with its chess game; hard to take after the blood and thunder we'd just sat through. They were fine for what they were, but relied far less on thoughtfulness than was necessary. Music by Hans Zimmer (nice dulcimer).