Initially, I had planned to brush up on my Arthur Conan Doyle before heading out to the theater to see Sherlock Holmes. I have read a few Holmes tales here and there, as well as Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen whose first story arch is mired heavily in the Holmes Mythos.
Turns out that this was actually more than enough knowledge to appreciate this movie.
Sherlock Holmes is, for all intents and purposes, set up for beginners. Though it isn’t an origin story, as you’re left to assume that many of Holmes and Watson’s adventures have occurred, it resembles other franchise-invigorating new offerings. Though it’s not technically a reboot, as there have been many versions of the Holmes franchise made into film (mostly made for TV), this certainly gives new life to an old and very popular work and sets the scene for a possible series of sequels.
Holmes is portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., now in the second titular franchise role of his grand comeback, with all the sarcasm and wit that one would expect of a super-genius. His performance and the way he plays off of his supporting cast is possibly the most entertaining aspect of the film. If it were anyone else in this role, I’m convinced the movie wouldn’t have been half as fun.
Watson in this offering is played by Jude Law (looking rather un-Jude Law-like) who, along with Guy Ritchie’s direction, brought a fresh look to a character who is classically portrayed as nothing more than a bumbling and easily amazed sidekick. Of course, Watson would still be nothing without Holmes, and vice-versa, but he stands much stronger as a character in this film. He often challenges Holmes and is shown as just as much Holmes’ keeper as Holmes’ friend and partner.
Also along for the ride is Rachael McAdams as Irene Adler, Holmes’ long-time flame and femme fatale. McAdams, though looking quite the part in Victorian garb, could have been easily replaced by any actress. Her performance was lackluster, but was bolstered only by her banter with Downey Jr. I think this would be the effect on any actress in the same scenes, however. I can only thank the director for casting her in the main American role of the Holmes series, as I’m sure her attempt at a Victorian British accent would have been horrifying.
Mark Strong rounds out the main cast as Lord Blackwood; an Alastair Crowley-inspired villain who uses science masked with the occult to achieve his ultimate ends. He has a very sinister way about him and seems to be an ideal casting choice for this sort of role. He sells the “magic” he produces as much as the character itself.
I am very thankful that Guy Ritchie strayed from the prototypical Holmes in this film. No swooping pipe (he uses a standard straight black model), no ridiculous hat, no giant magnifying glass, nothing to make you think that anything about this story is stereotypical of the previous depictions of Sir Doyle’s work. This, like many other big-hero movies, is striving to seem more realistic. Also, unlike many depictions of the detective before this, they clue you in on Holmes’ substance abuse, frequently showing quick cuts of him drinking strange fluid from a non-descript bottle, referenced by Watson in one scene with the line, “Do you realize that you’re drinking something that’s used for eye surgery?” with Holmes offering a dismissive wave afterward.
Very interesting were the slow-motion scenes describing how, exactly, Holmes will dismantle an assailant. This is the most notable Guy Ritchie fingerprint, but is used quite well in this film.
Though the technological aspect is made nearly believable, you’ll still have to suspend your ultimate disbelief in the end to make the entire plot work. Things like “chemical weapon” and “wireless switch” being uttered in the Victorian Era seem more a nod to the modern crowd than a bow to the ever-pressing spirit of industry and pseudo-science typically associated with the time period.
The movie is fun, plain and simple. It’s not Oscar-quality, by any means, but like most Guy Ritchie flicks, it’s fun to watch and you’ll get a few good chuckles in at the expense of some of the lesser characters. For Holmes fans, there’s a tease for a sequel throughout the movie in the form of one shadow-shrouded Napoleon of Crime whose face is never seen. It seems they’ve taken the Joker route and saved the biggest baddie for the second movie. My hat’s off to you. Having this new Holmes universe established before you really throw us into the mythology is smart. It gives time to the average audience to read and possibly catch up on what to expect from the sequel.
The only other observation I have is this: The TV show House, of which I’m a devout viewer, was modeled from Sherlock Holmes. House is Holmes (get it? Get it?) and Wilson is Watson. Never before has this been more evident than watching this movie. At times, the movie plays like a two-hour Victorian Era episode of House with more expensive actors playing the parts. Downey Jr. must have done some of his research by watching Hugh Laurie berate and analyze week after week to get that cynical edge he needed to fully pull off Holmes.
Seriously, if you’ve ever doubted the similarities or if this would be your first experience with Holmes coming off watching House, then you’re going to see it. From the scruffy, scrawny figures to the issues with substance abuse, it’s all in here.
Still, it’s a good watch. Worth the cost of a ticket to see it in the theater. It feels like a long time since I’ve said that.
Bidula’s Last Word: 7.5/10
Keep fighting the good fight.