Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: PEOPLE's Review

Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
From left: Noomi Rapace, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Warner Bros.

12/16/2011 AT 08:10 AM EST

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Between playing Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, does anyone have more fun onscreen than Robert Downey Jr.?

His gift is imparting that delight to the audience, which begins to explain why Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is enjoyable in spite of its shortcomings. But the fact that Shadows is better than its predecessor? Well, there are a host of reasons for that.

Let's start with the plot. Gone is the fake hocus pocus of Sherlock's last case – something about a flim-flam man taking over a snooty cult in an effort to destroy Parliament. No, this one is about a flim-flam man bombing select targets in Europe in an effort to start a world war. (WWI ignites a mere two decades after the film is set.)



It's a similar end game, perhaps, but at least there's no pseudo-magic. Plus, this bad guy is none other than Holmes's brilliant nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Mad Men's Jared Harris, relishing the villainy). That raises the stakes considerably.



So does the fact that Holmes is soon to be without his other half, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), who's about to marry his bland beloved, Mary (Kelly Reilly). This, Watson promises, is to be his last case with Holmes, though of course we hardly believe him. They were made for each other, these two gents, and if their chemistry hadn't entirely jelled in their first film, it has here.

In fact, the bromance is so strong, it leaves de factosidekick Sim (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's Noomi Rapace), a Gypsy with information about the bombings, standing on the sidelines with little to do. The fact that Stephen Fry folds in with the fellows so seamlessly as Holmes's cheeky brother, Mycroft, only underscores the point that this is a boys' club, in which girls are certainly allowed, just not allowed to be all that interesting.

Still, Shadows makes the most of its leading men and delivers on the action – even if it’s still a bit too reliant on blowing junk up.

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