Guy Ritche’s last Holmesian offering won the sceptics over and found a place with modern blockbuster loving audiences. Moving Holmes away from the cerebral and placing him as an eccentric pugilist Victorian James Bond allowed Ritcihe to satisfy his core fan base whilst avoiding many of the criticisms that have befallen previous attempts to bring Holmes to the big screen. His Holmes and Watson inhabited that special cinematic ‘bromantic’ world where they could exchange barbs, clothes and other things that would have previously been labelled homoerotic. Robert Downey Jr makes for a delightfully eccentric and built Holmes, it’s entirely believable that his Holmes is equally at home fighting his way through crowds of thugs and a good game of chess. Jude Law played long-suffering ex-Army doctor remarkably well (periodically disappearing limp aside).
This time round Ritche (and screenwriters Michele & Kieran Mulroney) have tried to give us a more conventional Holmesian mystery, which unfortunately doesn’t work in this established formula. To complain that a Sherlock Holmes film has too much Holmes might be contradictory for a long-time Holmesian but in this instance that extra added Holmes feels more like an afterthought. The set pieces are as brilliantly zany as the last and the stunts just as impressive but the core mystery is to throw away with the solution coming in a bink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that is far too key to treat so flippantly.
Stephen Fry gives us bizarrely buffoonish Mycroft who acts more as comic relief than the man who “is the British government […] the most indispensable man in the country.” (BRU) Presumably his reinvention as a nudist in an era that has become the byline for prudish British stuffiness is a device to show just how out of the ordinary the Holmes brothers are and that Mycroft is just as, if not, weirder than Sherlock. Noomi Rapace’s character finds herself sidelined and very quickly reduced to setting up one of the major gags and it feels very much a waste of her and her character, perhaps they’re planning to develop her further in a later film. Where Rapace’s character suffers, Mary (Kelly Reilly) is elevated to codebreaker and plays an integral part in the final solution. Jared Harris makes for a refreshingly young Moriarty and his confrontation with Downey Jr is clever but overplayed.
None of these criticisms stop it from being an enjoyable film, it might be narrative mess and rely too much on overplayed gags but the pacing is fast, the editing flash and the score is as brilliant as the last. The film is a fun romp and hopefully they’ll return the original format for the inevitable third instalment.