We find Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) already hot on the trail of his latest nemesis, ‘Napoleon of crime’, James Moriarty (Jared Harris). When the mad professor schemes to have Holmes’s on-off squeeze murdered, our hero spirals into depression – until the return of his trusty sidekick Watson (Jude Law) shakes him out of his torpor and sets him back on the warpath, following a trail of destruction that will lead to Paris, Germany and – inevitably – Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls.
The best comparison to draw here is with the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ sequels: the cast and crew remain unchanged, but a key ingredient is lacking. Perhaps it’s a sense of spontaneity: where the first film seemed genuinely sprightly and off-the-cuff, the outcome of every thunderous, whizz-bang, CG-fuelled action scene in the sequel feels – that word again – inevitable. Downey Jr even seems to be attempting a kind of knock-off Jack Sparrow, slapping on the eyeliner and chucking in a few inappropriate nod-wink asides.
Salvation arrives in the form of Stephen Fry as Holmes’s brother, Mycroft, and while the role of an upper-crust homosexual with a schoolmasterly demeanour and encyclopaedic intellect isn’t exactly a stretch for the nation’s favourite quizmaster, it’s a welcome distraction from the increasingly stale banter of the two leads. The result is a fitfully amusing but largely unsurprising and uninvolving action-movie-by-numbers: elementary, and not in a good way.