|WARNER BROS. PICTURES|
Noomi Rapace, left, and Robert Downey Jr. are shown in a scene from "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows."
For a man known as the world's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes doesn't do much detecting in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," Guy Ritchie's second stab at bringing the master sleuth to the big screen.
This Holmes, again brought to roguish, mischievous life by Robert Downey Jr., favors running, jumping, shooting and stabbing his way to the answers. In fact, it's his sidekick, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), who gets most of the opportunities for deduction.
And, with apologies to Holmes purists, that's OK, because after 2009's "Sherlock Holmes," audiences should be aware that this franchise is traveling a path leaning more toward action and adventure than mystery.
The now-familiar formula is in place: the buddy-movie-style banter and bickering of Holmes and Watson; Holmes acting quirky, if not downright kooky (he drinks embalming fluid in one scene and takes his disguises to a whole new level); and lots of things going boom in creatively staged action set pieces.
The year is 1891, and a series of bombings has escalated tensions between France and Germany. Holmes, though, believes it is all the work of a criminal mastermind, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), whom he has been tracking obsessively.
Holmes follows the clues, which include the murdered Crown Prince of Austria, to a gentlemen's club, where he and his brother, Mycroft (a delightful Stephen Fry), celebrate Watson's bachelor party. An assassin comes for a gypsy fortune teller called Sim (Noomi Rapace), but Holmes comes to her rescue.
From there, the plot takes us to France and Germany before ending in Switzerland, and involves a massive amount of artillery and maybe a world war.
Yet for all the pyrotechnics and stylized shootouts, the climax is understated, suspenseful and very smart.
"A Game of Shadows" benefits greatly from its villain, an adversary for Holmes who is his intellectual equal. In the best scenes, Holmes and Moriarty merely talk, playing out a battle of wits and showing a mutual respect. Harris projects an air of quiet, confident menace that infects the entire film. The stakes are high, and it feels that way. By contrast, two years later, I can't even begin to tell you what Mark Strong's bad guy was up to in the first movie.
The other significant newcomer is Rapace as the gypsy who unwittingly has become entangled in Moriarty's diabolical scheme. Sim serves as Holmes's gateway into the mystery, then does little more than tag along for the ride, Ritchie and the screenplay, credited to Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, never figuring out what to do with her. Rapace, the magnetic star of the Swedish version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," is a fresh, engaging presence onscreen, but maybe it's good that she is allowed to ease into her first English-speaking role.
The often contentious (typically in comedic fashion), brotherly bond between Holmes and Watson again forms the movie's heart, and the two actors appear to have settled even more into their roles. We can analyze every other aspect of the movie ad nauseam, but just as its predecessor did, "A Game of Shadows" succeeds largely on the strength of Downey and Law, one of the most entertaining duos in the movies today.
Greg’s Grade: B+
(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material. 129 minutes.)