Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is yet another addition to the already extensive canon of sequels floating around out there, but there’s no sophomore slump here. While it’s not necessarily better than the first film, it certainly is just as much fun. The stakes are higher, the conflict is bigger, the villain is badder, and Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes is – if possible – even crazier than before. Here we find him running around in camouflage onesies, sipping formaldehyde, testing adrenaline shots on Watson’s beleaguered bulldog Gladstone. He seems to be having the time of his life, really.

It’s not all fun and games though, big things are happening.

You’ve got the continent on the brink, angst in the streets, heads of state putting on a dog and pony show they’re calling a “peace conference,” all the while the darkest of capitalist forces seek to take down civilization as we know it! There are what look like Nazis afoot, even though it’s only 1891 – a little early for a world war, historically speaking. Ok, positing Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as an astute commentary on turn of the century European geopolitics might be something of a stretch. Nevertheless, it makes for an exciting backdrop against which the action plays out.

The evil Professor Moriarty has established himself at the head of a complex industrial conglomerate – so Sherlock Holmes has deduced in his John-Nash-conspiracy-theorist den. The Professor is at the center of a complex web (literally, a bunch of strings criss-crossing a room full of maps, converging on an image of Moriarty) of mysterious murders and majority stakeholder buyouts across Europe. In a liquor-fueled hysteria, Sherlock Holmes has figured this out, and this could be his greatest case ever!

The mystery at the heart of the plot, like most industrial conglomerates, is unwieldy and hard to dissect. We get the old Sherlock Holmes flashback at the end, revealing all the tiny details (the most important of all, if you’ll recall) we missed, but there are so many of them it’s really hard to keep up. It’s more like advanced calculus than elementary. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery falls by the wayside in favor of action and adventure and flashes of quick witty dialogue.

A Game of Shadows does away with the made-up magic and steam punk aesthetic of the first film in favor of some new hot topics: gypsies! Anarchists! A Panopticon! This is a recognizable Europe, and this time much of the visual splendor comes from the beauty of the landscape itself. That and some spectacular visual effects.

Slow motion “Holmes-o-vision” is back, though the novelty’s worn off since last we saw it. The first film featured the coolest boxing match ever, a slow-motion Holmes-narrated visual premonition followed by the fight in real time. It was just so cool, there was really no way to top it this time around. Holmes-o-vision kicks in more often in A Game of Shadows, and though it’s cool, it’s also a little distracting. This time we also get a lot more gratuitous slow-motion explosions, which are visually stunning, and fun to watch.

Noomi Rapace is nearly unrecognizable as Madame Simza with her unruly gypsy hair and a whole bunch of skirts. If you saw ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Swedish Edition,’ you know Rapace as an inscrutable badass with cheekbones you could grate cheese on and a stone-cold glare you wouldn’t want to get in the way of. Flashes of her badassery come through – when she’s knife-fighting a Cossack, for example. But she’s really under-utilized and easily forgotten when the going gets tough. Watson’s fiancé-turned-new-wife Mary is something of an afterthought as well. Her character struggles to be relevant, apparently failing as she is quickly pushed out of a moving train.

Jared Harris, (Mad Men) is deliciously evil as Professor Moriarty, whose self-serving machinations apparently seek to start what looks like World War I (nevermind that it’s 1891, just a couple of decades too early). He plays a cold and distant Moriarty – often considered the grandfather of all villains – a chilling portrait of an international super-criminal. He’s terrifying not only for what it is that he’s trying to do, but also because he is the first person who may really be able to outsmart Sherlock Holmes – a point proven in an artfully played game of chess during the film’s climax.

Clearly Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law revel in Holmes’ and Watson’s banter. Their chemistry is stronger than ever, Downey’s drunken swagger a perfect foil to Law’s tight lipped annoyance. Stephen Fry is quietly hilarious as the Holmes’ elder brother. I would have like to have seen more of him, figuratively speaking; he does an entire scene in the nude.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows looks like it was fun to make, and it’s just as fun to watch. The somewhat convoluted storyline is more than made up for in witty banter, characters’ chemistry, and explosive, exciting action. I’d gladly spend a couple of hours with the deliriously weird Sherlock Holmes, myself.