I thoroughly enjoyed the first Sherlock Holmes and approached this sequel with optimistic anticipation- only to be very disappointed. A budget that had doubled, multiple locations, and the confidence of a well received first instalment should have proved a solid platform for further success. Sadly, Director Guy Ritchie lost his way.
As a pairing, Holmes, played by Robert Downey Jnr ,and Watson, by Jude Law, worked first time around. This time , Jude Law saves the pairing from disaster. I can run with Holmes as a cocaine snorting eccentric, but his eccentricities are so overwrought in this outing that his credibility as a formidable intelligence becomes unconvincing. Although I am happy to see historic capabilities rewritten and reinterpreted, his ability and acumen at street-fighting place an emphasis on the visceral, rather than cerebral which takes the character, for my tastes, far too close to Jean Claude Van Damme and Vin Diesel territory. Those thoughtful deductive powers eschewed in favour of occasional machine-gun analysis.
Rachel McAdams role is reduced to a bit part, and is a peripheral figure. Noomi Rapace instead supplies the glamour in a tentative performance as Gypsy Madam Heron which doesn’t convince. The Villain, Prof Moriarty, is played , uneasily, by Jared Harris whose visual likeness to Richard Stilgoe does not help the cause. Yet all is not lost. Stephen fry is excellent as Sherlock’s brother, Geraldine James has pitifully little screen time as housekeeper Mrs Hudson yet delights whenever she appears, and Kelly Reilly does well in an underwritten role as Dr Watson’s new wife.
The plot is a noisy mess, and is largely threadbare. Swooping camera shots, fast editing and slow motion have their place but quickly the action becomes all, and the law of diminishing returns quickly comes into play. Which is a shame, because when Ritchie gets it right, it can be very good. This time an escape from an arms and munitions works shines as an ever escalating armoury of weapons is employed against them. Indeed it is such a good scene that the final reel, an attempted assassination, becomes an anti-climax.
In summary, the familiar Director’s curse of too much money, too weak a script/story, and indiscipline, with no-one around to say “Guy, No!,” strikes, which is a shame. Ritchie can write good, funny dialogue (see “Lock Stock, etc”)but it is not much in evidence here, he can also handle a good action scene (the dry dock fight in the first film). But here he tries to reinvent the Holmes legend again, but only succeeds in losing the good bits and failing to improve with what he attempts in its place.