Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris
Directed by: Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes”)
Written by: Michele Mulroney (“Paper Man”) and Kieran Mulroney (“Paper Man”)
The past couple of years have been kind to Sherlock Holmes fans, provided said fans don’t consider Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s text to be holy writ. Between the outstanding modern re-imagining TV series “Sherlock” from the BBC and director Guy Ritchie’s 2009 big-screen action/comedy take “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, the characters of Holmes and Dr. Watson are coming across as dynamic and exciting. No longer are they just the tweedy bores of the books, baffling the readers of today by repeatedly tossing out the word “ejaculated,” which in the 19th century was apparently a socially-acceptable way of saying “exclaimed.”
Ritchie returns to direct Downey as Holmes and Law who reprise their roles in the sequel “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” an entertainingly self-assured adventure that follows the lead of “The Dark Knight” by pitting our hero against his classic arch-nemesis. In this case, it’s the evil Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) who is the thorn in Holmes’ side. As the movie begins, Holmes is on Moriarty’s trail, attempting to solve a puzzle that began with the murder of the Crown Prince of Austria — and Moriarty knows this. The Professor is every bit the intellectual Holmes is, only completely without conscience. Moriarty doesn’t hesitate in targeting the people Holmes cares for, from old flame Irene Adler (Rachael McAdams) to Watson and his new wife Mary (Kelly Reilly), in an effort to send Holmes a message.
While it still remains odd to think of a story about Sherlock Holmes being an action movie, there’s no denying the thrilling kinetic energy Ritchie brings to the action scenes. The slow-mo fight sequences, thought out in advance and then carried out by Holmes, return with an immensely satisfying bonus, joined by a thrilling gun fight/train escape sequence and a disorienting race through the woods as mortars blast through the trees.
But the reason to see the movie remains the chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law. As Holmes, Downey puts an affably oddball spin on a character typically portrayed as unknowable and aloof, while Law’s Watson is a not-so-reluctant foil to Holmes, wryly self-aware of the danger his adventures with Holmes will bring. As Moriarty, Harris brings an disquieting normalcy to the part, the popular professor who know one, outside of Holmes, would expect is also an evil criminal mastermind. And while the always-delightful Stephen Fry enriches the film’s world with his comically offbeat take on Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, Noomi Rapace’s gypsy fortune teller Simza is left with little to do. The middle of the film, focusing on her and her gypsy clan, drags along slowly. The fact that it takes place in the countryside and is peppered with an over-long gag about Holmes’ fear of horses makes it feel like a deleted scene from a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel. Rapace even appears to be wearing Penelope Cruz’s hat from “On Stranger Tides.”
While there are no signs of magnifying glasses or deerstalker hats, and no one utters, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” the team of Downey Jr., Law, and Ritchie have once again managed to crack the case, discovering the secret to updating classic characters to entertain modern audiences.