"The only reason to put yourself through Guy Ritchie's overblown, inelegant Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows is to see Jared Harris, who plays Professor Moriarty, in a chilling low key," argues New York's David Edelstein. "As Holmes's nemesis, Harris suggests a short, unprepossessing brainiac who was mercilessly taunted in prep school, with the result that he is now a bitter nihilist, quietly determined both to trigger a world war and supply the weaponry. I wonder if Harris, who grew up knowing he'd never cut as dashing a figure as his leading-man father, Richard, dipped into his private well of bitterness for his scenes opposite Robert Downey Jr, whose Holmes is in the capering, somewhat fruity mode of… Richard Harris. In any case, Downey is only good when face-to-face with Harris: grounded, alert, angry instead of peevish. Opposite Jude Law's Watson, he flaps his arms and carries on in his high-school Henry Higgins accent as if he thinks he's the cat's pajamas — or, more improbable, Sherlock Holmes."
"Exactly like its titular consulting detective, Guy Ritchie's follow-up to his steampunky 2009 take on Arthur Conan Doyle's peerlessly curious antihero is a gorgeous shambles," writes Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle. "The whole film, which caroms from 1891 London to Paris, Vienna, and the inevitable Reichenbach Falls of Doyle's 'The Final Problem,' seems to have been subject to a strict diet of caffeine, nicotine, and coca leaves, much like Holmes. He's as jittery and manic as James Herbert's outlandishly ADHD editing, which again breaks down what's going on in Holmes's mind's eye via staccato shots that should leave younger viewers thrilled and fans of Basil Rathbone's classic portrayal concussed and itchy."
Nick Schager in Slant: "Social and political unrest that might lead to European war is the backdrop for writers Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney's tale, in which Holmes goes in pursuit of his mysterious adversary because he suspects the evil genius to be behind a series of anarchist bombings. Despite such superficial geopolitical context, however, A Game of Shadows has no interest in anything other than simplistic storytelling devoid of authentic historical heft, falling back on bland war-profiteering as the driving aim of its ne'er-do-well villain and giving Holmes no motivation except his egomaniacal desire to prove his own intellectual acumen — narcissism that, unlike in Sherlock Holmes, comes off as a grating affectation courtesy of the film's inability to find a single scenario that ably exploits Downey Jr's gift for melding dashing confidence with roguish insouciance."
But not everyone feels let down. The Guardian's Xan Brooks, in fact, is "tempted to credit Holmes with rescuing the director from his own, personal Reichenbach Falls. Not long ago, Ritchie looked dead in the water; dashed by the hell of Swept Away and sunk by Revolver. Yet now, with these rollicking Victorian capers, the director looks to have finally found a franchise to justify his Bullingdon-boy aesthetic. A Game of Shadows stands as a valentine to the public-school buccaneer. It provides Ritchie with a licence to run wild with Gypsies, trade punches with cossacks, or just generally arse about in expensive hotels. It gives us anarchy as panto and global espionage in the guise of a homoerotic stag weekend."
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Robbie Collin (Telegraph, 3/5), Richard Corliss (Time), David Fear (Time Out New York, 3/5), Todd Gilchrist (Playlist, B+), Oliver Good (Little White Lies), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 2/5), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 2.5/5), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), Keith Phipps (AV Club, C), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Bill Stamets (Newcity Film) and Scott Wilson (Nashville Scene).
Jen Yamato interviews Ritchie for Movieline, Jennifer Vineyard talks with Jared Harris for Vulture and the Observer's Jason Solomons meets Noomi Rapace, who plays a gypsy fortuneteller who teams up with Holmes and Watson against Moriarty. She is, of course, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and she'll soon be working again with director Niels Arden Oplev on Dead Man Down, also starring Colin Farrell, and appearing in Ridley Scott's Prometheus.
Update, 12/16: More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 2/4), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3.5/4), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Andrew Lapin (NPR), Daniel Loria (L), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Anthony Quinn (Independent, 3/5), Jasper Rees (Arts Desk), James Rocchi (Box Office, 2.5/5), AO Scott (New York Times) and Jen Yamato (Movieline, 7.5/10).