In this case I don't mind its defects. How often I read friends saying that about films (or books or whatever) which don't do much for me. I didn't even like Inception much, let alone Iron Man or Pirates of the Caribbean. This one I like. Yes, Guy Ritchie is an upper class Mockney wanker. Yes, his attitude to Romany culture is kind of odd. Yes, he chucks mannerisms at the screen because he lacks depth. You know what, I still liked it. Some of Ritchie's films (like Snatch for example) seem to work, and others are a total shambles. This one is at the good end of the range.
It's partly that Downey and Law are more or less my age, and on the whole I find people my own age more attractive than younger actors. The use of female characters is better than in the previous film. There is virtually no shoehorned-in romancing: neither Holmes nor Watson relate to Noomi Rapace in that way at all, instead she's another competent protagonist. Watson's wife functions as a minor but - again - competent character in her own right, deciphering codes and bossing Mycroft around, rather than a squealing victim, or scolding mum-surrogate.
Steampunk is a winter genre, and this is a nice chilly winter film. The action sequences make very extensive use of time-freezing slo-mo, with that foreground focus which solidifies little bit of flying debris (sorry, don't know the technical term), and Ritchie is more confident in using this fast-slow-freeze-fast style to externalise Holme's analytical thought processes. It's not deep but it is quite clever. Compared to many action films we see nowadays (Michael Bay and his emulators) the action sequences make sense. I mean they make cine-literate use of space and pacing, so that you understand the flow of events, and whatever peril our heroes are experiencing. Obviously they don't make sense in any real universe, but they flow in a real-like way.
The casting and acting is good. Ritchie seems to be a director that actors like working with, like Tarantino. No idea what he does but the general feel is that all involved are committed to the project, and to giving the audience a good time, rather than frantically signalling 'I am better than this you know, I went to RADA'. Jared Harris, late of Mad Men, is a restrained Moriarty. A good instinct to pitch him at that level, not competing with the colourful leads.
Finally - talking about colourful leads - I have to mention the slash aspect. Clearly Ritchie and his colleagues cottoned on to the significance of this aspect during the making of the first film, and pumped it up during editing. I quite often dislike self-conscious pandering to lady-fans in films (for example in Eagle of the Ninth) because I feel that neither the actors or the director have any feel for the woman's erotic gaze, but are just dutifully going through the motions. But for some reason Ritchie seems to have got a better grasp of the concept, and makes it more fun. Perhaps it's that I'm not a very romantic soul, but I like it better like this - a cheerful eyeful every now and then, and not a replication of every tedious hetero-romantic cliche.