Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. The action picks up soon after we left them, with Watson set to marry his lovely British rose, while Holmes has become increasingly obsessed with a series of crimes he believes to be linked. At the end of the previous film, Irene Adler revealed she is working for Professor James Moriarty, a man described as having equal intelligence and cunning to Holmes, but whose interest in new technology and sinister mustache and beard make him a dangerous threat.
The last film, while at times a confusing slog, was entertaining overall. The combination of Victorian-era intrigue and a haggard, street-fighting Sherlock, who’s smashed his monocle on the cobblestone and blows pipe ash into your eyes, worked surprisingly well. It’s all due to Downey Jr.’s mischievous charm and buddy-buddy chemistry with Law. The brilliant deduction balances nicely with the brash hardcore.
When the name “Guy Ritchie” flashed on the credits, it all clicked. I, unsurprisingly for me, didn’t know he directed either of these films; yet I should have, in retrospect, from his obvious signature style. Fights are staged with slowed down blows that enhance the intense urgency and frozen rage on a man’s face. The visceral sound of flesh bursting from a bullet on target is followed by a return to frantic pacing. It reminded me of Snatch without my conscious recognition. If you don’t like seeing the same style repeated from a director, this might bother you. But, maybe you should consider removing the snob stick from your nuanced posterior.
For sure, recent action movies overuse misplaced and unnecessary bullet-time, but Ritchie tends to sensibly employ it. During Holmes’s explanations, we’re shown a flurry of strung-together events, and time slows to reveal precise details, reflecting the nature of his thoughts. Whether amongst turmoil or seemingly mundane events, his mind hones in on the relevant clues. When Holmes, Watson, and Simza (Noomi Rapace) are pursued through the forest, the same fast/slow interplay conveys a feeling of absolute chaos mixed with moments of surreal focus.
Downey Jr. and Law have the same loveable chemistry, and despite the recurring theme of Holmes feeling sore that his best buddy is moving on with marriage, they get back into their friendly antagonistic give and take. And, of course, they poke fun at the inevitable gay undertones perceived by outsiders watching close male friends.
I get really tired of seeing lead male actors accompanied by either completely useless waifs or super kick-ass chicks who are 115 pounds but can throw shiny MMA fighters through a window. No one’s expecting complete realism in an action flick, but it’s much more enjoyable when the fighting stays within the normal parameters of earthly physics. The only way Lara Croft is going to defeat a gang of bears is with her shotgun, or by waving a steak in front of a brick wall, causing them crash into it.
Noomi Rapace plays Madam Simza, a small-framed gypsy and obligatory female sidekick. She fights using weapons, speed, and what I assume must be gypsy woods fighting to fend off enemies rather than shattering skulls with her tiny fists of fury. She also isn’t your typical American fashion model that usually gets inserted into the action genre. After I got over seeing her as Lisbeth Salander hanging out with Sherlock Holmes, she fit right in.
Stephen Fry appears as Mycroft Holmes, brother to Sherlock, and he manages to make even the most commonplace, standby comedy cliché irresistible (you’ll know it when you see it.) The actors surprisingly pull off what would otherwise be eye-roll-worthy bits.
A mixture of both surprise and predictability tends to create the most impactful crime-solving movie. I wasn’t enthralled by the mystery aspect throughout. There tended to be a pattern of reveals and being led back through the details to explain them rather than moving forward through events to a conclusion. While we marvel at Holmes’s deductive reasoning, they pushed the usage of “now, here’s what just happened” a bit too far. I appreciate explanations because I tend to lose track of who is who or what is precisely happening in films like this, and yet, not being able to play detective was a bit disappointing. However, this was relatively minor for the big picture. It certainly makes sense that Holmes and Watson have extraordinary skills that the casual viewer does not possess. It’s unfortunate that times of predictability were usually based on movie tropes rather than intricate plot points.
Does this mean anything to you? It did to me.
The explanations may be necessary, however, because it’s kind of hard to follow exactly what’s going on throughout. New twists often involve new characters and places they need to go that Holmes and Watson are aware of, but we couldn’t have guessed. Or, at least I think that’s what happened.
Another bit that bothered me—but not enough to warrant a whole beer—is that Holmes seemed like he Irished-up his tea one too many times (okay, he literally starts drinking embalming fluid) but then his manic oddness seems to fade back into his usual eccentricity for no reason. I think they had a few crazy jokes they wanted to add in there and then forgot about keeping things consistent.
Moriarty didn’t fully impress me. The part is played well, but for a supposed “arch-nemesis”, he didn’t strike me as particularly devious or unique. Perhaps he would have, if I had understood everything along the way. His main crony added more darkness to the battle. Madam Simza is also under-utilized for how good an actress Rapace is, but a more involved relationship wasn’t necessarily needed either.
This isn’t one of the best movies of the year, but it’s certainly a fun watch. I was extremely close to giving it a Two. I just didn’t have the experience that I anticipated.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for each “called it!” moment
Take a Drink: when you didn’t see something coming
Take a Drink: for each gasp from an old lady in the audience (down the rest if it seems she’s got ‘the vapours’ and faints.)
Take a Shot: when Watson uses Holmes’s wedding present