I wonder what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would think of what has become of his Victorian sleuth. There is barely a resemblance between those great books and the Sherlock Holmes portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. in this second movie from director Guy Ritchie based on the character of literary fame.
It’s not all bad; in fact, it’s jolly great fun, albeit somewhat frenetic, but saved by some lavish production values that recreate the period in sumptuous detail. To that end, CGI-effects play a great part in fabricating London skylines and Swiss alpine fortresses, while Sarah Greenwood’s production team and Jenny Beavan’s costumes add the finishing touches. It sets the tone for the piece in fine fashion.
As the second film opens, Holmes faithful sidekick, Watson (Jude Law) is finally set to marry his intended Mary (Kelly Reilly). The two gents set off for a bachelor party at a local club where they meet up with Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, played with just the right touch of British aristocratic eccentricity by Stephen Fry. A chance encounter with a gypsy fortuneteller named Simza (Noomi Rapace) propels the story into action as Holmes soon finds it is none other than Prof. James Moriarty (Jared Harris), his nemesis, who is behind among other things the disappearance of Irene (Rachel McAdams in a brief appearance).
It’s quite a twisted tale of munitions acquisitions, political unease among European countries and terrorist bombs going off. I’ve a little Holmesian hunch the writers didn’t have to look far for their ideas; they just picked up a newspaper. Where things go wonky is Moriarty’s attempts to force a world war decades before it actually happens so that he may profit from it. I think the evil academician is too smart to be so stupid, but I’m not in the movie-making business either.
Ritchie’s style favors the action scenes and draws heavily from techniques used on other popular action films. The stop action, slo-mo, slam edits and lightning fast cuts that have become so ubiquitous since the “Matrix” films and so many others are interesting here but badly over-used. Likewise, the voiceovers from Holmes as he mentally plots his defensive tactics just before executing them — once was enough.
In this second film, something else is becoming more apparent, and it doesn’t take Holmes’ great powers of observation and attention to detail to notice that Downey and Law don’t share much chemistry. Granted, the bromance is in the air, particularly on Holmes’ part — he can’t seem to live without Watson and that is emphasized. But Law seems a little at sea with his Watson, never quite establishing himself in the character, only reacting to what is presented to him.
Harris, whom some will remember from “Mad Men,” brings the right frisson of proper veiled menace to Moriarty. He’s a bad guy, but he’s also a British gentleman and his brisk exchanges with Downey save this from the drudge of being too action heavy.
Rapace, the Swedish actress who created the Lisbeth Salander character in the overseas “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” is not given much to work with. She’s just mere window dressing for Holmes and Watson to wag around in search of her missing brother, who they discover is mixed up in Moriarty’s plot. It would have been nice to see her bust out the action chops she, no doubt, is quite comfortable with.
I like the new lease on life these films have given to one of my favorite characters. He’s eccentric, clever and excellent at solving mysteries and, yes, I’m talking about Robert Downey Jr. Good show, old chap.