The return of Sherlock Holmes, action star. 

Grossing more than $200 million after its initial Christmas release in 2009, the first salvo of the current Sherlock Holmes franchise gave star Robert Downey Jr. an action-star companion to Iron Man. This Holmes — a bare-knuckle brawler and martial arts master set in a land of CGI and at times video-game-looking old London — has more in common with Spielbergian antecedents like the FX-driven Young Sherlock Holmes and the wise-cracking action-comedy of Raiders of the Lost Ark than with anything envisioned by Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

I'm not a Holmes purist by any stretch but was more turned off by Sherlock the Kick-Ass because of how generically familiar and hollow the film looked and played and how cruddy and confusing the plotting was.

But what this enterprise lacks in strong direction or writing, it partially makes up for in personality, with Downey and sidekick Jude Law (as put-upon companion Dr. Watson) building a nice, boisterous camaraderie. And the second installment, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, fills in around them better than the first installment, despite underusing Eddie Marsan as official foil Inspector Lestrade. Jared Harris (Mad Men) has a much stronger presence as villain Professor Moriarty than predecessor Mark Strong did in the first film, while the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, plays a Gypsy accomplice with a swashbuckling verve that tops the first film's female lead, a misplaced Rachel McAdams (who makes a brief appearance this time).

Set in 1891, this installment sees modernity setting in — in the form of a horseless carriage and, more central to the plot, advanced gunplay and weaponry that figures into an attempt by dark forces to gin up a European war and then profit from it. The mystery elements are superfluous to the action for much of the film — the slo-mo fight scenes, Rube Goldbergian chases and escapes, and torrents of gunfire worthy of The Town — but all the elements come together nicely in an effective third act set during a snowy summit meeting in Switzerland. The result is mostly forgettable but at times pleasant diversionary filmmaking during a season when there are so many more interesting options from which to choose.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
Opening Friday, December 16th
Multiple locations

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Rated PG-13 · 128 min. · 2011
Official Site: www.sherlockholmes2.com
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham
Producer: Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver and Lionel Wigram
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Robert Maillet, Geraldine James, Kelly Reilly, William Houston and Hans Matheson

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