Robert Downey Jr. insists on maintaining the Jennifer Aniston hair for his interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. It's a greasier, messier mop this time around, but it's still there, floating on top of the detective's complicated genius skull. And director Guy Ritchie isn't about to mess with the fluffy anachronism. It worked before; it'll work again. Sort of.
About that "before" moment: it was a speeding-motorcycle take on the venerable detective and it played with its source material in a way that updated Holmes for contemporary audiences while simultaneously giving Guy Ritchie a chance to push his subversive take on the "guy movie." In most of his earlier films, Ritchie has overseen a world of handsome thuggery where women are mysteries and mostly beside the point, while men are brothers and/or adversaries but never not the most fascinating creatures in the room. It was also okay if they gazed into each others' eyes and touched. So here, you expect the moment where Holmes beckons, "Lie down with me, Watson," after pushing the new Mrs. Watson (Kelly Reilly) from a moving train. He's demanding Watson do this in order to save his friend's life -- there's gunfire coming -- as well as for never-stated-yet-easily-read bonding purposes. And that is signature Guy Ritchie. The man was married to Madonna for a reason.
This time around, though, everything is a little less fluffy, a little more mechanical. The always maze-like plotting involves an evil proto-military-industrialist (Jared Harris) who seeks to create war in order to make a fortune. And getting to the bottom of his dastardly plan means that Holmes and Watson must team up with a Romany woman (O.G. Dragon Tattoo lady Noomi Rapace, looking crazily out of place in hair jewels and gowns) as well as an occasionally naked Stephen Fry. He plays Holmes's brother Mycroft and is never not serving up a side helping of Effete Smartypants Guy in a movie that occasionally forgets to provide it.
That downsizing of idiosyncratic detail might be the price of success. It was a pleasure, in the first movie, to get inside Holmes's steampunk-computer-brain and watch his deduction skills displayed in (almost) three dimensions. Learning that he was also a martial arts/kickboxing ass-kicker didn't hurt either. But it never dominated his weird sense of style or his funny, needy attachment to Watson. Here everything feels just a little less oddball and a little more ready to give in to typical action movie demands.
In the end, Holmes purists will most likely remain as annoyed as they were by the first movie and new fans will still have a convoluted good time. But what's really important -- Ritchie maintaining his own sense of style and his main character not turning into a slightly less grubby and somewhat more literate version of Captain Jack Sparrow -- is a future mystery only the inevitable sequels will solve.