Robert Downey Jr’s bombastic version of Holmes returns for a second outing.
Offering more of the same, it’s an entertaining romp which confirms Guy Ritchie’s fetish for slow-mo, guns, and munitions of every size. Despite the presence of Stephen Fry and Sherlock’s most famous nemesis, what you don’t get is a mystery worthy of the great novels. No surprise perhaps and for fans of enigma and intelligence we still have the Benedict Cumberbatch version on the telly.
Once again Downey’s Holmes is a brawler and a disguise-wearing rogue who leaps around the CGI-created backdrop of 1890s London with Jude Law as his faithful sidekick, Doctor Watson in tow. This time around, Watson is about to get hitched to his sweetheart Mary (Kelly Reilly) and a series of mysterious deaths lead Holmes to believe his ultimate nemesis, Professor James Moriarty is the playmaker at the heart of ‘the most important case’ of his career.
And so a merry dance is led, taking in France, Germany and Switzerland as the stakes are raised in what feels more like an action movie with knobs on, than anything too faithful to its literary sources. What you also get is a romantic sub-plot, where Sherlock seems to be mourning the loss of his buddy to the marital bosom. The Law/Downey banter is enjoyable as before, if brief in a story that is always urgently trying to get you to the next big set-piece and international location.
Jared Harris (from TVs Mad Men) is well cast as Moriarty. He oozes menace, with his mild mannered Englishness hiding the devilry beneath (as we saw in his late father). He is not hugely well served by the plot which see his grand plan as nothing more than a humdrum military-industrial type affair.
And of course Holmes and Moriarty play chess as metaphor for this ‘game of shadows’. Mostly the game is: Sherlock goes to a new country, gets punched, moves on, meets the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, gets punched again and gets shot a bit more seriously and so on. Meanwhile director, Guy Ritchie gorges himself on shots of bullets in gun-barrels, bullets in the air, bullets splintering trees and also that once novel deducto-vision effect, where Sherlock plans his fighting moves in speeded up montage (to which he owes a debt to Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run).
A special mention to National Treasure Stephen Fry who does have a couple of amusing scenes as Mycroft. All in, there are things to enjoy in this Sherlock adventure. Like last time around, it is the perfect fare for Boxing Day, when you’re looking to be entertained with your higher functions still reeling from excess.