Robert Downey Jr. stars again as Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant crime fighter and towering intellectual who, in director Guy Ritchie’s interpretation, is also an accomplished martial artist. After going slightly crazy with experimental drugs and kooky experiments on household pets, Holmes is rescued by Dr. Watson (Jude Law), whose wedding provides Holmes some distraction. After stumbling across some shady developments, they turn to a mysterious gypsy (Noomi Rapace of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films), who guides them on a mission to Paris. In addition to uncovering multiple unraveling mysteries, Holmes encounters Professor Moriarity (Jared Harris), his greatest enemy and equal opponent in every way.
Everything that did and didn’t work in the first Sherlock Holmes holds true for the sequel: the story is over-plotted and the supporting characters don’t add much but the chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law is terrific and so is the mixture of action and comedy. Downey Jr. gives a performance every bit as eccentric, playful and anything goes as the movie around him and Law’s flair for comedy makes him a great match for his co-star.
Rachel McAdams also returns for a brief appearance, which is just as well; she was miscast in the first installment and, despite being a wonderful actress, still has no visible spark with Downey Jr. or her character. Rapace has an intriguing introduction but the movie has no idea what to do with her, as she spends many scenes saying nothing and looking over the shoulders of her co-stars. Zhang Ziyi, following her breakout performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was cast in a nothing villainess role in Rush Hour 2. In the same vein, Rapace appears to be another talented actress from foreign films whose first featured role in an American movie is completely beneath her.
The biggest letdown is Harris–he’s a good actor but Moriarity is to Holmes what The Joker is to Batman: this is THE major villain from the Arthur Conan Doyle books and Harris is adequate but not an electrifying actor who can hold the screen like his co-star. It was rumored that Brad Pitt was once considered to play the role, which indicates the kind of star power and magnetism required that is absent here.
The story is a jumble of assassination plots, cross-country travels, various flashbacks and gypsy encounters, with even a trip to the opera thrown in. We also get way too much of Sherlock Vision: seeing Holmes’ P.O.V. during a fight is fun once but it gets milked too heavily.
What works are the spectacular action set pieces, particularly a forest pursuit that utilizes the Bullet Time effect from The Matrix in a truly stunning, innovative way. There’s also the final tussle, which smartly references a key scene from Conan Doyle’s work and is one of the most eye popping visuals of the year. The give and take between Downey Jr. and Law is always strong, with a brief wedding scene an especially funny example of how close Holmes and Watson truly are.
This franchise is for Downey Jr. and Law what Lethal Weapon was for Mel Gibson and Danny Glover: fans came for the action but got sucked in by the hilarious and touching rapport of the leads.
Bottom line: if you’re a fan of Downey Jr., you’re in for a good time. He works hard but looks like he’s having the time of his life. Between Hanz Zimmer’s wonderful score and the stunning climax, you’ll walk away rejuvenated for the inevitable Part Three.
Rated PG13/129 Min