FOR ME, THE IDEA of Robert Downey Jr. returning as Sherlock Holmes was almost entirely unwelcome—though no fault of his own. His portrayal of the master sleuth in 2009's Sherlock Holmes was a mumbling, fascinating mess, far removed from the cold, stilted detective one often sees in various film and TV incarnations. And I certainly don't mind a brusque retooling of any famous literary character—but take a moment and imagine Jane Eyre as directed by Michael Bay. That's what the 2009 version directed by Guy Ritchie was like. There were so many bells, whistles and explosions, solving the actual mystery became a distant afterthought—which of course, was half the fun in the original stories.
However in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, much of that fun returns... and the bells and whistles? They can be heard, but only dimly in the distance.
War is brewing in Europe, but Holmes is convinced an evil hand is guiding the conflict—particularly that of his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty (the wholly excellent Jared Harris, best known as Mad Men's Lane Pryce). Very nearly ruining the wedding of his cohort Dr. Watson (the equally excellent Jude Law), Holmes drags his unwilling pal to France, Germany, and finally Switzerland for a final deadly conflict at the edge of Reichenbach Falls. (Holmes' fans will perk up at the reference.)
Ultimately however, the mystery itself becomes secondary to watching three great actors (four, if one counts Brit comedian Stephen Frye as Sherlock's "smarter" brother Mycroft—and you should) build their scenes like master carpenters working on a spiral staircase. Downey and Law's repartee crackles like a Victorian era Abbott and Costello, while Harris' Moriarty is calm, calculated evil personified.
For lovers of Arthur Conan Doyle's original text, it's best to enter this movie pretending he had nothing to do with it. This is an "alternate reality" Sherlock Holmes, where comedy, overblown action scenes, and other occasional bells and whistles take precedence over the art of deduction. But the heart of Holmes—which will always be his deep, complicated relationship with Watson—is there in spades. At least this time around.