‘Sherlock Holmes’ improves in 2nd go at action hero

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, December 15, 2011 8:19am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Holmes and Watson remain two-fisted action heroes in the sequel to Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes,” continuing the development that might have surprised creator Arthur Conan Doyle but clearly delighted audiences in 2009.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” returns Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law to their roles as the detective and his medical colleague. This time they’re locking horns with the world’s most brilliant criminal genius, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who is hatching a plot with worldwide consequences.

As someone who was not enchanted with the 2009 film, I report with some surprise that the sequel is an improvement. Either I’ve surrendered to the idea of a Sherlock Holmes story as an action picture, complete with cheeky one-liners and grabby digital effects, or this one’s just a better, cleaner movie overall.

There still isn’t any actual sense of gravity. Downey’s smirk is a little too insistent for that, and the film is too interested in chases and explosions to let anything really be at stake.

But the laugh lines did seem funnier this time. And it was pleasant to see Noomi Rapace, the haunting star of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” movies (Swedish versions), as a gypsy fortune teller, and Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft.

It’s also fun to see a hero flashing his erudition—you know, in between the explosions. Holmes recognizes literary and musical cues, speaks several languages and invents cool stuff. Why Sherlock Holmes would maintain a perpetual three-day stubble is not explained, except that stubble is required for 21st-century action heroes.

I still don’t like the gimmicky running bit in which we see Holmes experiencing pre-cognition of his fighting scenes—but this does have a witty payoff in a climactic moment, so maybe it’s worth it.

Although Guy Ritchie indulges in one drawn-out action sequence with the kind of “bullet time” slow-motion that seems weirdly anachronistic here, he tidies up his act from the first picture. Even the timing seems better overall, although a handful of sequences do drag a bit.

In short, this movie fulfills a significant role for this moment in the film calendar: rather than bucking for Oscar nominations, it exists to provide a bright, shiny holiday entertainment. It doesn’t pretend to have soul, but it does have bounce. Throw in the unpredictable presence of Downey, and you’ve got a lively slice of escapism.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (3 stars)

An improvement on the 2009 reboot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective, as Holmes and Watson (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law) face down the world’s greatest criminal mind, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). It’s a superficial holiday package, wrapped in special effects and explosions, but a well-made example of such.

Rated: PG-13 for violence.

Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Metro, Pacific Place, Thorton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

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