In Hollywood, what's old is eternally new again, and Sherlock Holmes looks to be the next big movie franchise. An update of the iconic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle detective, Sherlock Holmes may well enrage purists, many of whom call themselves Baker Street Irregulars. But for the just-regulars in the audience, the film is dynamite entertainment.
Sherlock Holmes enhances the seamier personality quirks of the title character. Perhaps channeling his own storied personal excesses, Robert Downey Jr. takes Holmes toward a nihilistic end: His Holmes believes in nothing except the pure ability of his rationally perfect mind. Able to feel or believe in only that which engages his interest, Holmes escapes into the seedy underground of bare-chested, bare-knuckle boxing, where he can at least utilize his powers of observation to incapacitate his opponent — after taking a beating himself, be it for sport or to have a physical sensation to counter his boredom.
Downey's Holmes is an addict, a packrat, a grizzled man with low hygiene standards, a self-involved louse, an absentminded genius with little social prowess. Holmes needs a case to occupy his mind and keep his idle hands free of the devil's work.
The case in question comes in the form of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Hanged for a series of ritualistic murders, the self-professed magus appears to have resurrected himself to complete his mysterious work — which includes all manner of apparently supernatural feats.
Naturally, joining Holmes is Dr. Watson (Jude Law). The duo attains a sort of Odd Couple chemistry and amiable antagonism. Their main source of conflict in the film is derived from Watson's wedding engagement and moving out of their shared apartment at 221B Baker Street. Like Holmes, Watson too is a man of no mean physical prowess — he was an Afghan war vet, you know.
It adds up to an action movie. Sherlock Holmes is directed by Guy Ritchie, a noted purveyor of British underworld crime flicks. The film has the good guys grappling with the bad ones in set pieces such as a shipyard, a slaughterhouse, sewers, and the half-completed scaffolds of Tower Bridge.
The script, concerned with black magic, secret societies, and devilish city planning in the late 19th century, seems to draw heavily from the modern nightmares From Hell — the Jack the Ripper graphic novel — and the book The List of Seven.
Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, beware. There's no deerstalker hat to be found (though Downey Jr. does not neglect the haberdashery), the detective has a utility belt (!), and the solutions to mysteries are so complex and esoteric, you'll get nowhere trying to figure it out for yourself. And, really, must nearly every brilliant observation merely be the velvet around an iron fist about to pummel some cockney criminal Londoner?
On the other hand, it may warm the cockles of fans' hearts to see beloved characters such as the American con artist Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), and even a certain becloaked supervillain. The game is afoot!