(Guy Ritchie, 2011)
If the prequel to this film was where Guy Ritchie finally found a mode suited to his limited talents, then here those talents are revealed to have reached some sort of natural ceiling. He possesses a fine understanding of modern cinematic techniques, which means he is entirely comfortable crafting big, empty blockbuster entertainment which moves fast, thrills often, and leaves the mind soon. But here the tricks and ostentatious stylistic tics which made his Sherlock Holmes seem relatively fresh are wheeled out again and the charm has not lasted. While the repeated use of slow motion - the action cranked down then up and mixed with jump cuts during fight scenes and instances where Sherlock makes his great leaps of observation and deduction - works in some cases but not others, it reaches an absolute nadir in a scene where the heroes flee Morarty's lair as his men mortar them and the forest around them explodes. In this scene it stands totally revealed as a pointless stylistic exercise; a distraction from plot, character, even meaning.
Which is a shame, in a film stuffed with actual characters. Downey Jr's Holmes is not Conan Doyle's, but he is a vivid, entertaining chance for the actor to have fun and play around, and he is a generally entertaining watch, given all of the best lines. Jude Law seems more relaxed as Watson here than in the last film, letting his looks and charm work, and his easy chemistry with Downey Jr more or less carries the film. Jared Harris puts that odd, coldly intelligent presence to good use as Moriarty, a genuine match for Sherlock, as he should be, which gives their contest a nice balance, but Noomi Rapace has little to do in the token female lead, as Ritchie whips his heroes from one set-piece to the next.
This is an aggressively designed film, with big sets, outrageous costumes and that near-generic burnished blue steel and copper-grey palette seen in so many modern blockbusters becoming almost oppressive here; it makes the carnival of Victorian London and the romanticism of nocturnal Paris look the same as one another, set in some generic world created by an over-indulged production designer. Worse still, both look the same as Moriarty's German munitions factory and the Swiss Castle of the climax, all caught in a samey parade of places rendered mere dreary backdrops for cgi and anachronistic martial arts.
Just as in first film, Hans Zimmers fantastically eclectic score is the strongest aspect here, making a mild diversion seem more fun than it is.