Stars: *** out of Four
Summary: An old-school, fast paced adventure that resurrects neglected elements of one of the most famous people who never lived.
Review: So my brother is this huge Holmes fan. I’ve read a little bit of Holmes, I think only the first adventure and a smidgen after that, and I’ve always admired the character from a distance. One of my favorite movies growing up was Disney’s strangely dark, animal version of Holmes, ‘The Great Mouse Detective’, which, come to think of it, would be fun to see again. I also remember seeing a version of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ on the old Public Television edutainment show ‘Wishbone’, which was kind of creepy. So I learned from my brother that the literary Holmes was not the self-assured, all-together character we know from the Basil Rathbone movies of yore (though Rathbone’s Holmes was pretty killer in his own right), but was a bit more like the protagonist of Disney’s rendition, who was irritatingly eccentric and just a little bit mad. In fact, he would shoot holes in his wall, experiment with drugs (especially opium), and craved difficult cases in a similar manner. He was a boxer, a martial artist, and a swordsman.
Then I went to go see Guy Ritchie’s new film, ‘Sherlock Holmes’, with ‘Iron Man’ star Robert Downey Jr. in the title role. And now, in my own way, I’ve found myself an overall fan of the character, opium, bullets, and all. Not only does Holmes himself get a truer treatment (though with the drug content toned down), but so does Dr. John Watson, who on screen has often been the unfortunate victim of being made something of a buffoon to enhance Holmes’ reputation as the genius. Instead, like his literary counterpart, Jude Law’s rendition of Watson restores him to the military man who was wounded in action (if you watch the film carefully, you see him favoring a leg), and whose own wits and abilities are complimented and honed by his friend. Ritchie, an action director, uses Holmes’ and Watson’s physical abilities to the limit, unleashing Holmes as a master of lightning quick fistfight stratagem. Everything is amped up, just a little beyond what was canon in the books, but not far at all. Really, it’s pretty grounded in the continuity and style Sir Arthur Conan Doyle envisioned. The tone that the film strikes comes closer to the classic Indiana Jones adventures and their forbears, the thrill-a-minute serials of yesteryear, than basically anything in the past decade. It’s a refreshing trip to the movies that I heartily recommend. My critiques go to the villain, who I felt could have been just a little stronger, and to the pacing, which made the film a little hard to digest on the first viewing. It roars by, so I suggest seeing it again and again to catch every little detail, which keeps it fresh.
A solid, though imperfect, beginning to what promises to be a fun franchise. Here’s hoping they don’t make it a trilogy.