…directed by Guy Ritchie, written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg, starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams. Sherlock Holmes gives us yet another (please pardon the term) contemporary reboot of a classic character/franchise. And not just any character, but the original, the detective of detectives.
How important is ol’ Sherlock to detective fiction? How important was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation to the whole field of criminology? It really can’t be overstated; the deductive method of fact-gathering and hypothesis forming still represents the most accepted means of law enforcement investigation. That said, Holmes has never really seemed like a contemporary hero-type. He’s always seemed a little prim and proper, a little stand-offish – just not your leading man material.
Enter Guy Ritchie and Co., and the newer, badder Sherlock. RDJr. plays an obsessive-compulsive detective with a definite self-destructive streak. Without a mystery upon which to bend his hyper intellect, he’s borderline dysfunctional. Without Dr. Watson to lend an ear and rein him in, you wonder how long he’ll survive. This is a Wing Chun fighting Sherlock with a rakish sense of humor. A prankster, a rogue, portrayed with aplomb by RDJr. (despite a patchy accent). And once the game is truly afoot, Holmes shows his OG detective chops in full.
The story revolves around the case of homicidal upper class mystic, Lord Blackwood, who seems hellbent on a series of ritualistic murders and crimes designed to give him the power and influence over all of England. Holmes and Watson stop him during the very first sequence, after which, he’s sentenced to hang. But not so fast! Blackwood seems to be an actual sorcerer, capable of rising from the tomb and evading justice. What’s this, you might ask if you’re a Holmes purist – magic? Where does that leave the cool logic of Sherlock, with his keen observations and deductive methods? Where indeed.
Guy Ritchie is the perfect London hipster for the directing duties. He loves the quick-cut action, blast and bait time compression, disguise-the-details filmmaking you need to combine elements of a classic mystery with the requisite big action sequences. And Ritchie films this greenscreen Victorian London with as much enthusiasm and general coolness as his contemporary crime capers, like Snatch and RocknRolla. It’s frenetic, it’s fun, and it’s a highly entertaining style and setting.
In Jude Law, you have an almost completely different Dr. Watson than that old dude whose chief duty is to be constantly flabbergasted by Holmes’ genius. This is Dr. Watson who kicks your ass. This is the guy you count on in a scrap. He’s suitably horrified by some of Sherlock’s less gentile eccentricities, and one subplot involves his attempts to move out from 221B Baker Street and engage in the normal life of marriage and domestic bliss. Yes, it’s classic buddy-cop stuff, but it’s done with such wit and style you’ll barely realize it’s Riggs and Murtagh 2.0 . Law and Downey Jr. have great chemistry, and Rachel McAdams as Ms. Adler doesn’t miss a beat when she joins the fray.
All in all it’s a slick, fun, exceedingly well-done movie, just this side of brilliant in its execution. Unfortunately, Sherlock Holmes helps guarantee the continued reliance of Hollywood on rebooting and reprocessing old properties, and for every great one like this, there will be ten more disasters. But don’t let that dissuade you – unless you are the stodgiest of Holmes purists, you will enjoy this movie.