Movie Review: Thoughts on Sherlock Holmes

I decided to go and see Guy Richie’s take on Sherlock Holmes today.


In the future, the late years of the first decade of the twenty first century will be seen as a time when Hollywood, both on TV and on the big screen, was obsessed with reboots. Not only remakes of iwell established franchises and universes, but reimaginings of those franchises and universes, taking often radically new approaches to those properties.
Battlestar Galactica. Star Trek (which is a reboot AND a sequel at the same time). Batman Begins. The Incredible Hulk. James Bond’s Casino Royale. Doctor Who (which is a hybrid like Star Trek, too).
And, now, Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes, the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle is a character instantly recognizable to audiences of all ages. He has become part of our cultural DNA–the perfect logical detective. Basil Rathbone is considered to have done the definitive Holmes, but there are plenty of other models, imitations, and homages. Star Trek: The Next Generation did a couple of episodes with Data as Holmes; The Doctor Who episode The Talons of Weng-Chiang dress the Doctor up in a deerstalker hat. The movie Young Sherlock Holmes imagines Holmes and Watson first meeting as schoolage boys.
And, now, Guy Richie has brought us a reboot of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams.
This Holmes IS the deductive detective that can piece together information from the tiniest of clues, much to the surprise of his opponents, but this Holmes is also extremely different. As you might expect from a Richie film, this Holmes is a pugilist of the first order, one who beats his opponents by careful pre-encounter planning in his head. We get to see, a couple of times, Holmes detail for the audience, in slow motion, just how, cleverly, he will beat his foe, and then, at regular speed, do it. This Holmes also seems to *enjoy* bare knuckled fighting for just the hell of it.
He’s not a cocaine addict (perhaps that is not palatable in our heroes these days). His vice in this reboot is transferred to alcohol.
Watson in many Holmes adaptations is less an audience substitute and more of a bumbler (which is quite unlike the stories). Jude Law’s Watson IS no bumbler. He tries to balance his attempts to get married with his complicated, bickering relationship with Holmes.He’s fully competent, and in the skirmishes he and Holmes have with their foes, is as equally capable as Holmes in the physical arts.
The third corner of this movie is a supporting role from Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, who appears in one Holmes story (and I think mentioned in a couple of others) as the only person ever to beat Holmes. I wasn’t completely convinced by her performance and script that she was *that* good, but she is no useless damsel in distress, either.
Despite it being a reboot, there are bits and pieces of the Holmes Canon. We even have Detective Lestrade, and (mild spoiler) a Moriarty in the Shadows. He’s not the major focus of the plot, though. The plot, such as it is, involves a Victorian occultist trying to take power in England, and beyond, one seeming to have a supernatural advantage over our heroes.
Richie’s trademark cinematic styles are in full force here, and the cinematography is very good. A lot of the film is dark, but not dark in the sense of being muddled. I was able to buy myself being transported to a Victorian London where Tower Bridge is being built (and a visual shout out to that turns out to be a Chekov’s Gun for the finale)
This is Holmes and Watson as scruffy Victorian Secret Agents. James Bond, meet Sherlock Holmes.It’s not the Holmes of old by a long shot, but its damned entertaining. I enjoyed it.