By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In 2009, British film writer/director Guy Ritchie shocked Sherlock Holmes purists by rebooting the classic crime-fighting character for a new generation of movie fans.
Gone were the traditional -- and easily parodied -- capes, deerstalker hats and pipes. Instead, as embodied by Robert Downey Jr., the famous detective was now part intellectual sleuth, part martial arts action-hero, and he was partnered with a slimmed-down, pumped-up Watson, played by Jude Law.
The result? Elementary -- a $525 million global box office hit. And now the team are back in the sequel, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows", set for release on Friday.
"It was such a cathartic experience the first time around, and such an enjoyable one, that we all just wanted to do it again," said Ritchie, who made his mark with the flashy, indie gangster caper "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels."
This time, Holmes and Watson face a new adversary, the brilliant but evil Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) who is scheming to bring down European governments and has threatened the life of a Gypsy fortune teller (Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, in her first English-speaking role).
Downey Jr. said that while the actors had a tight script from which to work, ad-libs and on-set improvisation were very much the guiding force of the production.
"It's a democracy in the truest and most frustrating and most rewarding sense of the word," said Downey Jr. whose Holmes once again wears many disguises including one drag outfit.
Harris said that being thrown into the tight-knit group of previous Holmes collaborators was "quite a challenge." He said he would bring up ideas "and even if they didn't like them, they'd nod politely and just never circle back to them."
The classically-trained actor (son of actor Richard Harris) had to learn to be prepared for the unexpected.
"Jared and I would have a scene we'd be shooting in two days, and he'd say, 'Is this going to pretty much stay like this?' and I'd go, 'Not a word of it,'" said Downey Jr. "And it'd be like that."
Ultimately, Downey Jr. said "everything Jared did...was essentially thrown at him with very little time to prepare, so it was 'shock and awe,' an exercise in trial by fire."
Early reviews have been mixed with Hollywood trade paper Variety saying the sequel improves on the original -- thanks largely to the scenes between Holmes and Moriarty.
The Hollywood Reporter, however, said the action "perhaps arresting the first couple of times you see it, already seems hackneyed, mannered and overworked."
(Editing by Jill Serjeant and Bob Tourtellotte)