If you’re like me and grew up reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous stories about England’s most deductive deducer, Sherlock Holmes, then Guy Ritchie’s cinematic imaginings of the Baker St. resident and his partner the good Dr. Watson might seem a little strange. The Holmes portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. is tortured, prone to action, lecherous, and fond of gun play. His literary equivalent is stoic, intellectual, refined, and lets Dr. Watson, the army veteran, carry the duo’s lone firearm. Because of this difference, I have a little trouble buying Ritchie’s Holmes saga as a true Sherlock Holmes story. I don’t mean to imply though that I don’t enjoy the films. While they don’t feel “Holmes-y” to me, they’re actually very exciting movies, and this sequel is perhaps even better than its predecessor.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows picks up where the first film left off. Holmes is hot on the trail of Moriarty, a villain of mind-muscle equal to our hero’s. Dr. Watson is also about to be married, and his matrimonial plans intertwine with Holmes’ investigations, much to Watson and his bride’s chagrin. What follows is a globe-trotting escapade to stop Moriarty from igniting a world war.
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are as affable as ever as the crime fighting duo of Holmes and Watson. Their chemistry alone could carry the film. Fortunately, their chemistry doesn’t have to do this, as the film also includes a five star heavy in the form of Jared Harris’ Professor Moriarty. Harris is wonderfully menacing, and I was never quite sure whether or not Holmes would prevail in his battle of wits with the professor.
Guy Ritchie is also adept at crafting a slick and stylish action flick. Hollywood has decided to only produce movies based on existing properties, true stories, and sequels. I’m glad Ritchie has found a way to keep making his crackling thrillers under the new system even if it does mean severely altering the personality of a literary legend. Holmes’ commitment to deductive reasoning and the trueness of the observable world is as strong in Ritchie’s incarnation as it is in Doyle’s stories even is Holmes’ way of interacting with the world is vastly different in each.
Besides trying to save the world, Holmes’ motivation for traveling the world in this movie is to save his friendship with Dr. Watson. Faced with the doctor’s marriage, Holmes fears losing his friend, and his personal journey through the film is his need to let Watson go into this new relationship if he hopes to maintain their partnership. Holmes also has to learn to trust Watson both to take care of himself and to remain his friend even after his marriage.
Holmes’ concerns aren’t odd. Most of us have experienced the threat of a new relationship altering the relationships that already exist. Change of any kind is loss, because what was is not anymore. When faced with that kind of threat though, we don’t often consider that the change might be for the better. We may lose, but we also many times gain. This is especially true with loving relationships are involved. A truly loving relationship between two people isn’t exclusionary. Love demands the beloved, and when love is great and true it overflows and begins to include others. Like Holmes, we need to learn to let loose our loves and trust them to stay, because love doesn’t leave. Love remains.