Dir. by Guy Ritchie - 2 hrs. 9 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
There's something to be said for a well-done, fun franchise movie. You can do so much worse at the multiplex to go see a couple of big stars do a big budget period movie. As long as each installment delivers enough to have you smiling on your way out of the theatre, it doesn't need to be revolutionary or ground-breaking. Every couple of years, you get to visit a character that you like again. That's a fair bargain.
I don't really need to get into who Sherlock Holmes is, unless you're some kind of genius, Sherlock. The characters are essentially the same as last time around, except Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is on the verge of getting married. Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) doesn't look very positively on that development, but he's willing to stand by his friend. Before that, Holmes interjects into a criminal plot being executed by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), at the behest of Moriarty (Jared Harris). Irene is quickly written out of the film, and Moriarty refuses Holmes' request to leave Watson out of whatever mischief might pass between the two. There is a stag party for Watson, shoddily organised by Holmes, where we are introduced to Mycroft (Stephen Fry), Sherlock's older brother. Later, Holmes is forced to interject during Watson's honeymoon, as Moriarty proves that he's not interested in leaving Watson out of the equation. From there, the larger mystery is a battle of wits between Holmes and Moriarty, sometimes literally, sometimes via physical confrontation, sometimes metaphorically.
I'm of two minds about Guy Ritchie's stamp on the Sherlock Holmes movies. It's easy to see his visual flair and the trademark of his smaller budget films' story-lines: twisting heist plots with a large cast of real men who show a penchant for oneupmanship. Even if it's coached in turn of the 20th century British language and mannerisms, Ritchie's Holmes is swaggering alpha male driven to success almost maniacally, and fueled by exotic substances to keep his motor running. It's different than "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" or "RocknRolla" only on the surface. But as much fun as those movies are, he seems very comfortable making this sort of big-time franchise film. I wouldn't doom a director to make low-budget swear-a-thons for his entire career, so I suppose as much fun as those early films are, they'll always be available to go back and watch while Ritchie continues on this path. Besides, it's not as if the Sherlock films are bad or anything.
I have some sympathy for people who worship the source material; a lifetime of reading comic books has put me in that category for more than my share of films. I've never read a Sherlock Holmes novel, which is probably the best way to go into any given movie. I couldn't tell you whether this was based on anything in particular, and I don't care to find out. When someone is setting out to make any movie, the goal should be to make the best film possible. So while I have no idea if there was a book partially set in a munitions factory, what shows up on screen is an excellent action sequence that goes from a violent direct, face-to-face confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty to a batch of rebels fleeing what seems like an army with that same munitions factory at disposal. The actual fleeing is captured by very good editing and camera-work, and special effects that really do heighten the tension of the scene. For a couple of minutes, we're taken from a crime version of a chess game into a war film, and it works.
And in a general sense, the film works. It's better than the initial "Sherlock" film; it's still fun watching Downey, Jr. simultaneously border insanity and outsmart everyone, there's plenty of cleverness to the proceedings, and what's not clever can be pretty funny. There's even a gag near the end that almost demands a repeat viewing (I, for one, am going to have to re-watch that scene at the minimum to see if there are shortcuts or if it's a matter of misdirection leading the viewer to not catch on earlier). I'd have a hard time imagining that this will be anyone's favorite movie, but it's not supposed to be. It's fun, it's a good sequel, and I'd show up for a third installment, should it come.
3 / 5 - Theatre