I’ve been a big fan of Sherlock Holmes for a long time. I’ve read most of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mysteries and seen some of the old movies. Thus I was quite excited to hear that a new movie adaptation (starring Robert Downey Jr. of “Iron Man” fame) was in the works. Despite the rather bizarre trailers that originally suggested an unpleasantly “alternative” take on Holmes, it’s received acclaim from critics for its wit and vitality. So far, I’ve heard nothing but praise for it from my moviegoing friends. So, all things considered, is it worth your time?
It’s good. But it’s not great.
The plot follows Holmes (Downey) and Watson (Jude Law) as they combat the mad occultist Lord Blackwood (played effectively by Mark Strong). As the movie opens, Holmes and Watson disrupt a ghoulish ritual and apprehend Blackwood, who is hanged shortly thereafter. But it soon becomes clear that Blackwood walks the earth again…has he risen from the dead with the help of dark powers? As they pursue Blackwood and try to unravel his nefarious scheme, Holmes and Watson are joined by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) – Holmes’ love interest and the only woman to have ever outfoxed him. The trio is drawn deeper and deeper into a web of danger and conspiracies that threatens all England.
It’s a promising story that starts off well, but never really transcends the limitations of its genre. The movie is filled with the same brand of high-octane action found in movies such as “Van Helsing” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” – well-choreographed and cinematically splendid, but lacking a true emotional core.
And that is perhaps the biggest flaw in “Sherlock Holmes.” There’s plenty of dry wit and fast-paced adventure, but not a whole lot of character development. Whether you loved it or hated it, “Avatar” successfully elicited an emotional response from its viewers – in large part due to the time spent fleshing out its protagonists. In contrast, “Holmes” grabs the viewer from the beginning and never lets go, relying on action scenes and brilliant one-liners rather than on strong characters.
Most notably, the ironic-romantic relationship between Irene and Holmes could have been handled far better – Irene doesn’t get enough screen time, and when she does put in an appearance, her lines come off flat rather than flirtatious. To compensate for these deficiencies, director Guy Ritchie throws in more and more fights and chases, which paradoxically detract from the merits of the film as a whole.
On a more positive note, Downey is perfectly cast as Holmes – while he doesn’t smoke a meerschaum pipe or wear a deerstalker hat, his deductive abilities are on full display. Through occasional slo-mo sequences narrated by Holmes, viewers get a unique look into the brilliant detective’s calculating mind – especially fascinating considering that most of Conan Doyle’s original stories were told from Watson’s point of view.
Along those same lines, the near-constant repartee between Holmes and Watson is what gives the film its undeniable charm, making “Sherlock Holmes” worth watching just for the humor. There are some really great “quotable” lines, which I won’t spoil here…suffice it to say that they’re eminently memorable.
I am pleased to report that objectionable content is practically nonexistent. One scene (shown in the trailer) contains mild crude humor, and there’s a fair bit of punching and kicking, but practically no bad language or innuendo. (Much of the suggestive-looking footage shown in the trailer was not included in the actual film). The movie is rated PG-13, but it probably could’ve gotten away with a PG rating.
To try and read a complex worldview into this movie would be pointless. It’s a shameless, unapologetic action film devoid of true philosophical underpinnings. There’s nothing in here that would either keep Christian viewers away or attract them.
So, to see or not to see?
Don’t go to “Sherlock Holmes” expecting to see a deep, provocative meditation on human nature, sin, or man’s place in the world. This movie is about laughs and thrills – and it’s good for an afternoon’s entertainment. It’s not good enough to watch over and over again, but it’s probably worth seeing once (especially considering that a sequel involving Professor Moriarty is in the works).
I preferred “Avatar.” But maybe that’s just me.
A blend of good action, acting, and wit marred by a lack of emotional depth.
Normalized Score: 3.4