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Sherlock Holmes 2: The return of the action hero

Robert Downey Jr. (left) and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson in a scene from "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

Warner Bros.

2 out of 4 stars


Hollywood calls the tune and Britannia waives the rules. So it happened, two years ago, when Sherlock Holmes found himself torn from the pages of his Victorian maker and refashioned for modern young eyes.

To his big brain were added bigger fists. No longer merely the master of empirical deduction, he had bulked up, lost the deer hat and morphed into, ho-hum, one more action hero. Conan Doyle fans turned up their noses, but the box office was nothing to sniff at – over $500 million, the sort of number that guarantees an encore.

Voila. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

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Guaranteed too is the return of the principals. So it's Robert Downey Jr. back in the title role, not quite as dissolute (alas) this time around, but heavily invested in the same two passions: his transparent love of colourful disguises and his disguised love of the good Dr. Watson (Jude Law again).

Since, once more, the script has a bit of fun with this homo-erotic yearning, it's a shame that, once more, the actors don't. For all their bantering and bosom-buddying, the pair somehow lack the one thing they can't do without – chemistry.

No matter, since Holmes is a solo act early on, quick to establish his he-man credentials by punching out a quartet of dudes on the set-dressed streets of old London town. That's when another returnee, director Guy Ritchie, dusts off his own repetitive act. He insists on shooting the action scenes with that recycled "visualization" gimmick: First, the all-seeing Holmes imagines, in slow-mo, every step of the mayhem to come, then the duplicate speeded-up version confirms his foresight.

Strangely enough, despite getting two cracks at these sequences, we still miss a lot, probably because so much of it is shot through a glass darkly – Ritchie seems to have taken that shadowy subtitle too much to heart.

Plot? Well, we're treated to the big-league villain on this outing, Professor Moriarty himself, similarly large of brain and, allegedly, a mean amateur boxer to boot. The casting of the terrific Jared Harris definitely gets at the cerebral half of the wicked equation. You just gotta believe he's the kind of prescient fellow who, in 1891, would corner the market in munitions in order to foment a World War – better early than never.

As for the fisticuffs, no way. Although a fine actor, Harris can't begin to pass as a ring combatant – a ring announcer, maybe. Luckily for him, Holmes and Moriarty save their fiercest battle for the chess board, trading pawns instead of punches. That it's the most gripping scene in the movie speaks well for the game of chess, if not for the movie.

Anyway, our new action hero and his favourite nemesis chase each other out of London, enjoy a brief stop in Paris, travel by train to Germany, and spend the climax in Switzerland – the weather is gloomy but ain't it always the way when "storm clouds are brewing over Europe."

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And the gals here don't do much to brighten things. Prominent on the female side of the ledger, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace departs the Stieg Larsson trilogy to take what is billed as "her first English-speaking role." Sort of. In truth, she doesn't speak much. Instead, trading in the girl with the dragon tattoo for a gypsy with a baleful stare, Rapace acts more as a surrogate for the audience – her lot, like ours, is mainly to look on and look bored.

In his defence, Holmes does get off a very clever line when he says: "They're dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle." Too bad he's talking about horses because that's also a pretty good definition of a fun action flick – dangerous at both ends, crafty in the middle. This movie wants to be a horse but, even measured in box-office millions, it's just another nag.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

  • Directed by Guy Richie
  • Written by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney
  • Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace
  • Classification: PG
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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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