If anything confirmed that we need the two most recent Sherlock Holmes movies -- both the first Robert Downey, Jr. one and the recently-opened "A Game of Shadows" -- it's the party I went to where a teenaged girl was watching the first RDJ Holmes on DVD, and confessed that she had no idea who or what Sherlock Holmes was. This was stunning to me, because long before I read any of the Holmes stories, or saw any of the movies, or watched the excellent Jeremy Brett movies, I at least knew who Holmes and Watson were. I had at least seen the deerstalker hat, the meerschaum pipe, the magnifying glass, and identified them as being symbols of a detective named Sherlock Holmes. He is one of the most universally known fictional characters, up there with Tarzan, Superman, and Mickey Mouse. We may take that for granted, however. Holmes might eventually fade from the popular consciousness. To guard against that, we need new Sherlock Holmes movies.
And the latest one is a terrifically entertaining contribution to the collection of Holmes adaptations. Watching the first one, I learned that I could accept RDJ's and director Guy Ritchie's version of Holmes -- which focuses on the man-of-action martial artist Holmes who appears in some of the stories, rather than the cerebral drawing-room ratiocinator -- because it is not so foreign to the literary Holmes as to lose the spirit of the character. And I enjoyed the look of the films, which lend a subtle touch of the fabulous to the usual dreary Victorian England settings; not to mention Jude Law's Watson, who seems to have picked up an unusual number of fighting skills in the military for one who served as a military surgeon. (Why, in this film we learn that he can skillfully aim and fire artillary.)
"A Game of Shadows" expands upon the tapestry laid out in the first film, by moving to the territory which Holmes pastiches have often explored -- the chess game, played out on a global scale, between Holmes and his Player on the Other Side, Professor Moriarty, drawn in the broadest strokes in the story "The Final Problem." Moriarity is, of course, the model for the comic book supervillain, the James Bond baddie, and every other "big bad" who at least matches the hero for wits, and eclipses him or her in resources. So many of the Holmes stories paint him as an intellectual giant in a world of pygmies; so the concept of Holmes meeting a villain whose powers of logic and manipulation were equal or superior to his has fired the imaginations of readers.
The movie handles this aspect of the story well. We don't get the chilling scene from "The Final Problem" in which Moriarity suddenly appears in Holmes's study without Holmes seeing him enter (the scene here is played out in Moriarty's office at his university, which Holmes visits at the professor's invitation); but Jared Harris plays Moriarty as one who is firmly in control not only of what is happening in his immediate presence, but everything everywhere.
Not that the movie is a cerebral match of wits between the detective and the criminal. No, it's a big, loud, action-filled chase across Europe, complete with anarchist bombings, hand grenades, machine guns, trains, and automobiles. (No planes yet. Leave that for the next movie.) After all, you can't teach the young folks who Holmes is by boring them. They'll come for the action; hopefully, they'll come back (to the books) for the raciocination.