Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes legions can relax; this Holmes outing isn’t too egregious. In fact, it’s even a good time for all.
The plot isn’t really afoot, here. In other words, the plot is only okay – it has notes of Hound of Baskervilles, mixed with a whole lot of Voldemort (sort of like a grown up Harry Potter and Tower of London). But since this is an introductory movie for – one guesses – a new franchise, we can forgive a weak plot.
The real game is the relationship unfolding between Holmes and Watson.
Fans of House, MD will recognize and appreciate this Holmes and Watson. House and Wilson have the same sort of obvious male domestic partnership. The chemistry between Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law is brilliant to behold.
Downey’s Holmes is a pugilist (and indeed, so was Doyle’s) who instantaneously sizes up an opponent’s weaknesses for intellectual entertainment.
Between cases, Holmes is a wreck, unable to stop the accretion of sensory input when he ventures into normal, polite British society. He prefers seclusion in the dark, imbibing whatever is at hand, concocting bizarre experiments and bemoaning the banality of existence. Only on the case, it seems, can Holmes’ high functioning autistic tendencies be put to use. Downey manages to make his quirky character believable, extraordinarily amusing…and also pathetic. This is a flawed Holmes, to our delight.
Our man Watson is an equal here, no bumbling fool merely present to receive Holmes’ expository brilliance. Watson is a well-dressed member of London society, a respected surgeon. He is also a skilled sharp shooter, a quick study, and – to his dismay – itches to throw himself into almost any fray. Law’s Watson alternately brings Holmes back to reality and enables his obsessions.
London herself has certainly never looked so luxuriantly grimy. This steampunk version of London is stylish, very wet, and bursting with industrial zeal. The final set piece on an unfinished Tower Bridge in particular is beautifully rendered.
Watson’s Mary is a wonderful addition, adding a realistic portrayal of a bright, strong 1890s woman. By contrast, the love interest for Holmes just doesn’t work. Actress Rachel McAdams can’t pull off enough the gravitas necessary to lend credence that THIS is the one person – in all the world – who outwits/ensnares Holmes.
Director Guy Ritchie is an odd choice to direct this genre and it shows: his modern stylized quick cuts, so admirable in Snatch, only drag the viewer away from the impact of a period epic tale. With more seamless editing and a better plot, we’d have a solid A film here. One hopes the follow-up with a certain arch nemesis will be just right.
Movie Grade: A-
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