Based on the beloved character, Guy Ritchie (ex Mr. Madonna) attempts to update Sherlock Holmes for the masses; more surprisingly, for the most part he succeeds.
From the very beginning we are shown how Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is capable of extreme incites, able to dissect how to incapacitate a guard in slow motion before we see it realised with grunts and whacks included. Such a thing would not be unthinkable of Ritchie but we learn that this faculty of the great detective is indeed more akin to a curse; acts that no one else would pick up on haunting him in an inaudible chorus that only further cultivates his eccentricities (and allows Downey Jr. to be at his best). Cared for by his roommate Watson (Jude Law acting uncharacteristically charming), they must unravel a plan that’s so busy and frantic that it ends up being largely as uninteresting as the Dan Brown novels it borrows from, with its secret societies and menacing aristocracy (played best by Mark Strong though there are many).
Thus the central conceit is the director’s personal philosophy – “be cool”. Although it works beautifully with Ritchie’s London, a steampunk period visual feast, best highlighted by how the city is used in the course of the duo’s scrapes and follies. Regardless, it can often feel too “clever” for it’s own good, with Holme’s foibles pushed to the Nth degree and often spiraling off without any explanation, convoluting an already haphazard script.
What rescues the piece are Downey Jr. and Law, turning Holmes and Watson into a Butch Cassidy and Sundance for a new generation; both acting as foils for the other and evidently enjoying every minute of it, something that is always palpable and give us the best moments in this two hour long behemoth. Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) seems almost artificially implanted into the story, most suggesting it as a beard for the homoerotic subtext but if simply having a male friend who you love in the modern sense of platonic love is gay then we really need to re-examine how obsessed with sex we are as a culture. Adler appears to serve only a plot device and introduction to Professor Moriarty, McAdams tries (and occasionally succeeds) in breathing life into her but with so little screen time and character development the conflict between whether or not she is gritty or ethereal never resolves itself.
Overall, Holmes is an interesting and worthwhile addition to the franchise but some restraint is needed in script and direction, something that should be considered if a sequel is to come.
And don’t expect that the Baker Street Irregulars are clamouring to see it either…