I’ve always wondered what would happen if someone strapped Guy Ritchie down and made him film a movie that WASN’T about a carnival of British criminals all after a diamond, a painting or a pair of guns. As it turns out, the man is capable of moving beyond the genre he created, and although we’re still in Britain, and still dealing with criminals, Sherlock Holmes is a different breed of film, not just for Ritchie, but also compared to the current modern slate of movies based on video games, toys and comics.
I say this with a touch of irony of course, as Ritchie’s version of Holmes IS in fact based off of a modernized comic version of the character, but Joe Average doesn’t know that so I’m willing to let it slide. What we have with this reimagining of the character is a slick, smart action/comedy franchise just asking for a trilogy.
Perhaps the best part of the film for me was the fact that it skips a painfully arduous origin story that plagues almost every initial movie in a series. Instead, we’re thrust into what appears to be the tail end of Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson’s (Jude Law) relationship, as after a multitude of cases together, Watson is moving on with his life, and moving in with his wife to be.
After solving their final mystery, the arrest, capture and execution of the dark arts practicing Lord Blackwood, Watson heads out, and Holmes is left by himself to be consumed by his self-destructive tendencies which include drinking heavily and inventing dangerous things.
…and also cage fighting, which is a surprisingly good use of his deductive reasoning skills.
But the team is forced back together when Lord Blackwood seemingly rises from the dead and starts raining terror down on London with black magic. Also in the mix is Holmes’ former lover/adversary Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), hired by a mysterious figure to manipulate Holmes into helping him achieve his ends through the Blackwood case.
The story is smarter than your average action/mystery/comedy, with Holmes using his considerable brain power to solve the case like a 19th century combination of Adrian Monk (of Monk fame) and Shawn Spencer (of Psych fame). For those worried about the inclusion of black magic into this seemingly logical universe, you’re going to have to trust me when I say it actually does fit in with the tone of the film by the end, and the universe Ritchie has here is more consistent than you’re led to believe.
But story aside, the real reason the film works is because of Downey Jr’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Watson. Each of them is spot-on as their respective characters, however much they may differ from their Doyle predecessors, and the dynamic between them is what makes the film fun to watch, as it goes beyond any mixed-race buddy cop movie you’ve seen before, and feels like a natural friendship rather than two characters with clashing personalities forced to share a patrol car, err stagecoach.
I was curious as to how Rachel McAdams was going to pull off a British accent, but that was remedied by her character being from New Jersey. Adler isn’t given the development she deserves, and it’s unclear as to why exactly she’s the only one who can ever outsmart Holmes on a consistent basis. Because she’s hot? Is that it? The low point of the film is without a doubt when you realize that the scene from the trailer where McAdams struts around a hotel room in lingerie has been cut from the film completely. That had me shaking my first at the end credits.
Why are your clothes on?!
It’s a fun movie, it’s a different movie and that alone is enough to make it stand out amidst a series of cloned superheroes and toys getting their own three picture deals these days. The film is obviously set up to be a franchise, with Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty lurking on the horizon, and in an era where the mention of a sequel is eye rolling, I’m actually looking forward to seeing where this series is going.
Ritchie is outside of his box, and it’s nice to see he can swim in unfamiliar waters. Supported by an excellent cast, Sherlock Holmes may have just cemented himself as the definitive movie character of the year, and I’m curious as to just where his adventures take us next.
4 out of 5 stars
And special congratulations to Jude Law for making the first movie I’ve liked him in since Gattaca.