By Features Staff Writer Sam Coyle

             Following its widely appreciated action prequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows had a considerable amount of gut punching and crime-solving to live up to.  But with some new characters—some dispensable and some not—and the adept criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty (Jarred Harris), the sequel not only met the standards of its predecessor, but went down a completely different path.

            While some classify A Game of Shadows as a mystery – just like its Sir Arthur Conan Doyle inspiration – others place it in the action genre. Yet, A Game of Shadows incorporates not only action and mystery, but also comedy and even elements of historical fiction – yielding quite a unique film.

Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Holmes is once again dynamic and clever, and when the compulsive personality of Dr. Watson (Jude Law) comes into the mix the two characters spawn their own brand of hilarity. Their constant bickering oddly resembles a fed-up married couple who can still get down to some serious Victorian ass-kicking. With the addition of Stephen Fry, the humor proceeds to an even more ridiculous level. This absurdity in no way diminishes the quality of the action scenes. This film is a thriller to begin with.

Guy Ritchie, who also directed the first film, packs this movie with strategically choreographed fight scenes that are now typical of Holmes’s character. Ritchie’s close-ups and slow motion shots make the action sequences comparable to the flashbacks of an episode of CSI. Yet, the most thrilling component of these films is not the potent violence, but the way the plot unravels bit by bit, allowing the audience to decipher the plot simultaneously with Holmes. Although the dialogue pace and Holmes’s own mind are too hasty at some points – leaving the viewer somewhat lost – Ritchie makes up for the confusion with close-ups of bullets and bombs through a riveting chase scene.

The most unfortunate part of A Game of Shadows is villain Professor Moriarty, if one could even label him a villain. He comes across just as intimidating as a dull, middle-aged nemesis of James Bond, albeit exceptionally intelligent.  Even though he expresses no qualms about causing conflict all throughout Europe, his character is just as bland as any other college professor.  It is not Harris’s performance that is lacking, but rather the fear of Professor Moriarty that is necessary to instigate a believable threat.  At most, Moriarty is as daunting as a game of chess.

Still, with its perfect balance of quirky humor and compelling tension, A Game of Shadows exceeds expectations for a sequel. While Holmes’ soft adversary Moriarty tempered the danger he inflicted, the action and mystery remained just as enthralling as in the predecessor. Thankfully, Ritchie only strengthened the perplexing relationship between Holmes and Watson. Prepare yourself for a mildly fierce and fast-paced film that upholds the name of Sherlock Holmes.