All Sherlockians know that the only villain who could match the most famous and celebrated of all fictional detectives is the fiendish Professor Moriarty. As we were promised in the postscript to the first Sherlock Holmes movie from Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law, this sequel pits the two masterminds against each other in a match to the death.
Watson is about to get married and this produces two responses in Holmes. He feels abandoned and is jealous of Watson’s fiancée. This emotion is mostly childish and narcissistic but, as in the first film, there is a frisson of homoeroticism as well. But he does have moments of generosity and concern for others. He fears that their association will put Watson and his new wife at risk. In one of the high-octane film’s best and quietest moments, he visits Moriarty (played by Jared Harris, son of Richard Harris of “Camelot” and the original Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter movies) to ask whether they can agree to let Watson be free of any entanglement in the unpleasantness ahead. But Moriarty does not play by any rules, which is what makes him so dangerous.
There are silly disguises and wild stunts. We meet Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) — in the books a brilliant recluse, even more eccentric than his violin-playing detective sibling but here a rather foppish quasi-diplomat who calls his younger brother “Sherley” and walks around his home in the nude despite the presence of a young lady. There is a brief appearance by Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler (“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman,” says Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia”). Noomi Rapace from the Swedish “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” series is criminally underused as a gypsy woman trying to find her brother. Director Guy Ritchie makes the most of the steampunk sensibility by matching analog gears with camera tricks that hyper-rewind and tricked-up slo-mo to show us Holmes’ observations and analysis. He also draws some parallels to our time. Anarchists were the terrorists of that era, technology was making possible more devastating destruction, national borders were dissolving, and, as always, money is the great motivator. “Though politics may divide us, business will unite us,” says a character.
“Come at once if convenient,” Holmes says in a note to Watson. “If inconvenient, come all the same.” As we see in the meeting with Moriarty, this is an era on the cusp, the first World War just over 20 years in the future, and Holmes knows that Moriarty is not the only one who will not be willing to abide by a playing fields of Eton-style veneer of gentility. Like the first film, what holds our interest is Downey, whose vision of Holmes, if not what Conan Doyle had in mind, is arresting. Today he might be diagnosed as having sensory integration or autism spectrum issues. “What do you see?” the gypsy woman asks Holmes. “Everything. That is my curse.”
Parents should know that this film includes constant action violence with chases, guns, bombs, poison, and explosions, characters injured and killed, a suicide, some graphic images, brief nudity (male rear), some sexual references and rude humor, drinking, smoking, drugs
Family discussion: What parallels are there between the international politics of the era portrayed and the present day? Do you agree with Watson that Holmes is wise? How does this differ from other portrayals of Holmes?