Sherlock Holmes, I still can't quite put my finger on it. I liked the movie, but there were parts of it that just didn't work for me. It's a little schizophrenic, a lot nutty, and was missing that special element that turns a good movie into a very good one. So what's the difference then with its recent sequel, 2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows? Heck if I know, but I liked it a lot.
It's 1891, and a series of bombings across France and Germany have Europe on edge with countries teetering on the brink of war. Everyone has their theories about the reasoning for the bombings. Terrorists? Anarchists? Assassins? Quirky and eccentric London detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has been feverishly investigating the bombings and has come up with his own theory. A brilliant professor, Moriarty (Jared Harris), is Holmes' main suspect, but Holmes has no proof other than his own wild theories. With the help of his soon to be married loyal sidekick, Watson (Jude Law), Holmes goes about getting that evidence in a case that will have them traveling all over Europe and in all sorts of hijinks.
What's throwing me off here is a criminally simplistic issue. There is little difference overall between the 2009 film and this 2011 sequel. Director Guy Ritchie did a very capable job with the original as he does here. The two movies are almost identical lengths (129 to 128 minutes) and have the same look, feel and tone. All I can come up with is a somewhat more pointed feel to the proceedings. The action isn't so ridiculous. It isn't trying to be hysterically funny, just funny. The scope isn't IMMENSE. Even when a war among European countries looms, the point of view is on a personal level (i.e. Sherlock and Watson) and for me at least, more effective.
It is Guy Ritchie though, and it's got a certain charm and style unto itself. The look of the movie is great, 1890s Europe with its own unique look. It has a cluttered, busy look, but it works with the semi-schizo nature here. One of the best things going is Hans Zimmer's score. As needed, it's big and booming like a historical epic/period piece should be. The most memorable sample though is the main theme, or as I always think of it...Sherlock's theme which you can listen to HERE. It is the perfect quirky, eccentric theme for a quirky, eccentric hero. Yes, overall the script and story is too smart/clever for its own good at times with countless reveals of things we didn't know need to be revealed. Much more than the first movie though, I just had more fun watching this one.
That is no doubt easily chalked up to the continued success in casting. Robert Downey Jr. is one of my favorite actors, and he does a great job bringing Holmes to life. Again, this isn't the prim and proper Englishman. Downey's Holmes is quirky, eccentric, offbeat, brilliant, obsessively observant, and always one step ahead of his rivals. Law's Watson is the perfect sidekick; intelligent, smart and wise but in a way completely different from Holmes. The duo is basically the original Odd Couple. Holmes is upset that Watson is getting married (to Kelly Reilly from the original) and doesn't hide his feelings. Their friendship is basically a perfect match, the two longtime friends arguing like an old married couple. Noomi Rapace is wasted as Sim, a gypsy along for the ride with the duo. Harris is okay as the villain with Paul Anderson as his sharpshooting henchman. Rachel McAdams and Eddie Marsan briefly reprise their roles from the original with Stephen Fry playing Holmes' classier brother.
With a story that's all over the place and never really slows down, some set pieces stand out from the rest. The running gag of Holmes seeing and analyzing what's about to happen...and then doing exactly what he saw is used just the right amount. Not too little, not too much. A running chase/fight in a London casino with a Cossack assassin is impressive as is a chase and gunfight through a Moriarty-owned factory in France with some explosive results. The finale doesn't disappoint either as Holmes and Moriarty finally confront each other. End result? 'Shadows' knows when to tap the brakes where the original was more aggressively in your face. It makes all the difference.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows <---trailer (2011): ***/****