BOOSTED BY THE global winnings from his previous dalliance with Holmes – a hefty $US500 million and counting – British director Guy Ritchie returns with a more expansive palate for what is, essentially, more of the same, but slightly better.
Robert Downey Jnr continues to reinvent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s infamous sleuth for a young, modern audience. Whether in disguise or – shock, horror – in drag, 21st-century Holmes remains a bona fide riddle solver, but now comes armed with an infectious sense of fun, flashes of wry humour and an essential physicality. Compared to his stuffy, pompous original, this Holmes would appear to be the world’s most unlikely detective, rather than the most famous. Downey is perfectly equipped to take him on.
For round two, he has a most excellent villain to tackle: one Professor Moriarty (MAD MEN’s Jared Harris) – a man intent on kick-starting a world war 20 years early (we’re in 1890’s Europe). There’s a series of bomb blasts that rock major centres, killing key political figures. Afghanistan is referenced. Stockpiles of weapons emerge. The future looks very bleak indeed.
As always, Holmes is aided and abetted by his trusty sidekick, Dr Watson, played with greater conviction by the returning Jude Law. Downey and Law’s chemistry positively sparkles, crackles and pops here, helping to place this admittedly busy sequel far and above its predecessor.
Adding to the smoother blend of wit is Stephen Fry, wandering about (naked) as Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft. Holmes’ own preposterous disguises, which culminate with a series of ‘invisible’ outfits, work nicely, too. The period detail is exemplary throughout.
Given all this – and the comedic, homo-erotic tones of Holmes and Watson’s relationship – it’s little wonder that women are left with little to do. Watson’s just-betrothed wife (Kelly Reilly) is tossed off a moving train (by Holmes). Irene Adler (McAdams) is also dispatched with too early (possibly for good), while that other lady vying for Holmes’ attention, Sim (Rapace), is wasted as a directionless gypsy card-reading damsel better suited to TV’s DOCTOR WHO. Considering a husband-and-wife team are credited as penning this tale, rather than the usual army of Hollywood guns for hire, one expected more.
This latest Holmesian affair also suffers from a quip-led, action-skewed tension that noticeably sags midway through – not to mention a narrative that’s absurdly convoluted. Even those slow-motion action sequences that pre-empt Holmes’ physical strikes become overused, although they’re thankfully more considered than in the first affair.
It’s frustrating, then, to find Guy Ritchie still not quite the master of this newfound franchise, for this second romp is infinitely more watchable than its predecessor, and deserves to be bettered. The main players (Downey, Law and now, Fry) are all on top form, riffing off another nicely. Harris is quite exceptional as Moriarty. Yet McAdams is sorely missed.
To his credit, Ritchie has brought a largely redundant figure back from the brink of irrelevance, and bang up to date. He’s also proved he can travel beyond his trademark ‘LOCK STOCK’ canon of gangster hits and misses. With a cleaner line of action – and Ms McAdams back in the fold – a third and possibly final outing with Holmes would appear to offer potential for plaudits so far lacking from the series. For now, with this second round, he’s on solid ground.
Critical Rating: 7/10.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS is in cinemas from Thursday.
First published in The Sun-Herald.