The Hollywoodization of Inspector Sherlock Holmes is complete. The new version of the intellectual detective is a brawny ladies man who thirsts for physicality as much as he longs for truth. He doesnâ€™t just stroll around sleuthing with a magnifying glass â€“ he enters bare knuckle boxing matches and â€œoutwitsâ€ his opponents. The film does its best to never let us forget â€“ Holmes is a badass.
There is something appealing about this new action hero version of Sherlock Holmes. The little boy inside me got excited with every punch he threw and explosion he dodged. However, director Guy Ritchie throws the legendary detective into such a twisting, uninteresting plot that even the buddy cop tactics of Holmes and Watson couldnâ€™t keep me intrigued.
The new film adaptation of Sherlock Holmes borrows some bad habits from recent films like The Da Vinci Code. It presents you with a scenario that is seemingly only explained by supernatural events, and then reveals itself as a trick of science. The plot twists itself into such a knot that it becomes tedious to untie. The third act is filled with such â€œha! I tricked youâ€ self satisfaction that I quickly found myself unable to care.
Guy Ritchie puts Sherlock Holmes in a gritty, dark Victorian England with a mostly brown and gray color palette and dim lighting. Holmesâ€™ (Robert Downey, Jr.) latest case is to solve several murders perpetrated by Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a count from a secret religious society. The Count has seemingly defied death by escaping from his own tomb and is continuing to commit murders beyond the grave.
Meanwhile Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) is engaged to be married and planning to retire from detective work and end his partnership with Holmes, much to the detectiveâ€™s chagrin. Holmes sloppily and comically attempts to thwart Watsonâ€™s plan for a quiet life.
There is also the cunning and beautiful criminal Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) whose romantic history with Holmes has made her one of the only people capable of thwarting him. In a drastically underdeveloped side plot – Irene is secretly working against Holmes and alongside Holmesâ€™ ultimate nemesis – Professor Moriarity.
The screenplay is penned by a team of Michael Robert Johnson (debut), Anthony Peckham (Invictus), Simon Kinberg (Jumper). Itâ€™s a possibility that each writer had their own agenda as the film significantly lacks focus. It doesnâ€™t succeed in its attempt to portray science as a more powerful vice than religion, probably because it was afraid to be atheistic (most mainstream films are). The story has some clever temporal shifts, but they are too uneven to feel like they actually have a point.
Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law are two of the filmâ€™s saving graces. The character of Sherlock Holmes was written to be a cocky chauvinist, but Downey, Jr. somehow manages to make him surprisingly likeable. As the gears of his mind tick away at solving the puzzles, he becomes distant in his conversations – his eyes never focusing on a person, but searching the set. Just as he is never without the solution to the problem, he is also never without a clever quip.
The filming style is familiar if you have seen past Guy Ritchie films. The bare-knuckle boxing match comes right out of Snatch (by far his best film) and he employs a lot of the same stylistic touches as he has on previous films. For instance Guy Ritchie loves slow-motion and he uses a high-frame rate camera to show bone-crunching details in slow motion. There is almost a fetishistic quality to Ritchieâ€™s portrayal of fists hitting bone, and buildings exploding. Itâ€™s a stylistic flair, but not a good enough distraction from the lack of explanation it provides.
The sequel ready film ends with an open-ended third act and the promise of more bloated action from the Holmes and Watson buddy cop duo in the future.
Bottom Line: Thanks to Robert Downey, Jr. Holmes the character is surprisingly likeable. Thanks to the screenwriters and director Guy Ritchie Holmes the film is not.