Sherlock Holmes is one of the world’s most famous fictional characters. He’s iconic and has been the subject of many films. But since it’s the 21st century, the powers that be in Hollywood have decided that the famous detective deserves a reimagining. And who better to do this then Guy Ritchie, director of such cinematic greats as the remake of Swept Away and Revolver? Who better? Probably a lot of people. Anyway, Sherlock Holmes is Holmes for the MTV generation.
The film opens with Dr. John Watson and the London Police racing through the streets of London, on their way to some operation. They’re loading weapons, looking focused and ready to kick ass. On the roofs above, like some sort of X-Man, Sherlock Holmes runs, leaps and rolls his way towards the same goal. They’re on their way to break up some satanic ritual and human sacrifice conducted by the mysterious Lord Blackwood. And they succeed. Holmes retreats into 221B Baker Street and isn’t heard from for months. The day before his execution, Blackwood requests Holmes’ presence, during which he warns Holmes that the game is most definitely not over. Blackwood is then executed. But it would seem Blackwood’s warning is real as it appears that he escapes his own grave. So Holmes and Watson leap onto the case and try and stop Blackwood’s nefarious scheme.
Holmes is an interesting character. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, he’s a brilliant investigator who constantly outwits not only his nemeses, but also the police. I’ll admit, I don’t have a great insight into the character. So Guy Ritchie’s film could very well be the greatest depiction of the character put to screen. But approaching it as just a stand-alone film... it’s not very good. There are great elements in the film. The production design is brilliant. It’s not perfect. The team seems to have hummed and hawed over whether the film should be steampunk or not, and decided it shouldn’t. And this is a shame. There are steampunk elements to it, but not enough. Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law have a great report in the film, and certainly seem to be having a good time.
And yet despite these things, the film falls flat. It’s packed full of stylistic camera shots and bits of editing, and while I’m a huge fan of really different cinematography and direction, I found the constant slow-mo and sped up footage incredibly annoying. The style is definitely Guy Ritchie’s, but I don’t think it works in the context of the film and events, and really bogs down the film. And with a story that really doesn’t resonate, this is a real problem for the film. I just didn’t care what was going to happen. It’s a strange case (heh), because some of the choices, I liked. The dirtiness of old London, the violence that didn’t feel subdued, the sense of history surrounding the city, all great. And yet something was missing. And once again, this missing element boils down to poor writing when it came to the story.
Robert Downey Junior has been doing some great work recently. He was incredibly entertaining in Tropic Thunder, and was perfectly cast as Tony Stark in Iron Man. And yet, for some reason, he feels miscast in Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t a terrible choice. Downey’s definitely got the cockiness they were going for in the character, but again, something felt off. Maybe it’s because they made Holmes too much of a rogue, I’m not sure. But there is something not right about this Holmes.
Jude Law is perfectly fine playing Watson. In fact, the choices they made for that character certainly felt more right. Watson is a war veteran, and carries the injuries associated with that. But it also makes him tough as nails. I’m not sure if this is an accurate depiction of the character, but next to the Holmes of this film, it did feel right. Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood, however, was not a well-written character. Strong’s a great actor, but he’s all sneers and bellowing vitriol here. There is absolutely no depth to his character. And as I’ve said before, a hero is only as good as the villain he’s up against.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes misses more times than it hits. It’s not awful. And certainly isn’t the worst film Guy Ritchie has ever directed. But it’s a great disappointment. In bringing the character into the 21st century, it feels like the crew spent far too much time concentrating on making the film look modern, without giving him a modern context and decent story to justify the modern direction. It’ll keep you mildly entertained for 2 hours, but it’s not in any way a great film. Maybe the teasing introduction of Professor Moriarty will provide a decent antagonist for Holmes’ next adventure. We’ll have to see.