On the surface, a respected citizen, perceived by the civilized world as a mild-mannered author and math professor, Moriarty is, of course, the sociopath bent on world domination that only Holmes sees through. This diabolical mastermind, with a coterie of henchmen led by Paul Anderson, turns out to be both a mental and physical match for Holmes—down to the device, introduced in Ritchie’s first film—of empowering Holmes’ with the ability to narrate his dazzlingly choreographed physical encounters in slow motion in the moments before they actually take place.
Repeating their collaboration with Ritchie on the first “Sherlock,” Director of Photography Philippe Rousselot and Production Designer Sarah Greenwood immerse us in the sights and sounds of Victorian London including an early horseless carriage, the elaborate passenger train that doesn’t quite manage to get the Watsons to their honeymoon in Brighton, and a Swiss peace conference where their fateful meeting culminates in the ultimate Holmes-Moriarty confrontation at Reichenbach Falls.
Yes, it’s a lot to take in—a lot of noise and a lot of testosterone. By the way, the buzz about a repressed homosexual relationship between Holmes and Watson that dogged Ritchie’s first film are put to rest with campy acknowledgement in the second. “Lie down with me,” a half-naked Holmes commands Watson—in order to save him from an explosion. And more than once, the well-tailored doctor—like a fussy wife—tells Holmes: “I’m not going out with you dressed that way—” particularly, a turn in Victorian drag that Holmes concedes is “not my best disguise.”
In short, if you can bear the poetic license Ritchie takes with Conan-Doyle’s originals, you may just have as much fun in the audience as Downey and Law are clearly having on screen.
“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” opens Friday, Dec. 16.