Bloody brilliant, even with its excesses. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is even better the second time around, now that you can plumb its murky depths on home entertainment.
This second instalment of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock series debuted this week on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download. One option is a stand-alone DVD with modest extras. That includes a giggly look at how the relationship of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude mirrors that of their characters, eccentric Sherlock Holmes and faithful sidekick Dr. John Watson.
The superior option is a two-disc combo pack combining DVD, digital copy and a Blu-ray loaded with first-rate extras, including Downey as host of the Maximum Movie Mode. His semi-serious smartass attitude serves this purpose to perfection.
As entertainment, A Game of Shadows kicks because it balances its flawed hero -- Downey's slightly mad version of the famous Baker Street detective -- with an equally crazed arch-villain, played by Jared Harris with a controlled glee that makes him as delightful as he is diabolical.
This story is also set in 1891, coincidentally the year that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's literary invention finally became a public sensation. The movie, co-written by husband-and-wife team Kieran and Michele Mulroney, is based primarily on Doyle's The Adventure of the Final Problem.
Taking a second run through A Game of Shadows reinforces the quality of the snappy dialogue and the authenticity of the piece in mood and character. Example: "Bad people do bad things because they can," Holmes tells Watson in trying to explain why Harris, as Professor Moriarty, needs no motive for evildoing.
"Jude and Robert are good mates," Ritchie reports. "They're both talented. They both enjoy their job. So, you know, it makes my life much easier." Downey adds: "I feel about Jude the way Sherlock feels about John. He's the best partner a guy could ask for."
Their collaboration has now morphed into one of the best Sherlock Holmes series ever.
n Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is also a second instalment -- but this "franchise" has crashed and burned. While most sane people would enjoy hearing that Nicolas Cage's head exploded into a ball of flames, watching that for another 95 minutes is unbearable.
"It doesn't matter how far you run," Cage's Johnny Blaze intones, "there are just some demons you can't escape." That would be you, Cage. This time around, Blaze is bumming around eastern Europe (the movie was shot in Romania and Turkey). Looking all sulky, he seeks redemption by trying to save Satan's half-human child. But he cannot save us from the staggeringly inept filmmaking by co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
If you are in the mood, however, Spirit of Vengeance debuted this week in separate DVD, Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray editions. The Blu-rays offer a six-part documentary, The Path to Vengeance, that is as unwatchable as the movie it profiles. Burn, baby, burn.
n In Darkness: As a co-production of Canada, Germany and Poland, In Darkness earned an Oscar nom under the Polish flag. As directed by Polish master Agnieszka Holland, it is a powerful and determined Holocaust drama. While overlong, it is shattering as a life experience, and as a human document, because it is so faithful to its true story.
In Darkness debuted on DVD this week with one remarkable bonus. Holland sits down for an interview with Krystyna Chiger, now the only surviving member of the 10 Jews that an unlikely Polish hero -- an anti-Semitic thief and sewer worker -- sheltered from the German Nazis in the sewers of Lvov during the Second World War.
"Everything is true what they put in this movie," Chiger remembers saying when she first saw In Darkness. "I have nothing to correct."