I had a lot of trepidation when seeing the trailers for this film, because an action hero Sherlock Holmes is about the last thing I wanted to see. Not to say that action has never been a component of the novels or previous films and television episodes, but Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce have always remained my iconic duo of Holmes & Watson, capturing the essence of the stories I enjoyed as a young reader (as best they could for the period). But alas, Guy Ritchie's adaptation of the story is made to cater both to a modern audience and the fans of his 'slam, bam, thank you ma'am' filmmaking. It's not as cheeky and clever as a Snatch or level as his last Rock'n'Rolla, but it takes a pair of well-liked actors, throws them into the roles, and dazzles you with over 2 hours of thrills that certainly doesn't feel so long as you watch the action unravel.
Downey, Jr. and Jude Law are acceptable as the sleuth and his doctor/ bodyguard/companion, but I did not come out of this highly impressed. Downey's Holmes reminded me quite a lot of Johnny Depp's turn as Ichabod Crane from the Sleepy Hollow film (which was in turn inspired itself by Angela Lansbury and Basis Rathbone), though less quippy and a lot more of the rambling intellectual, as one requires from the brilliant detective's deductive nature. At times I felt it was a little forced, but who am I kidding? Downey obviously wanted to have fun with his role and that's all this movie is...popcorn chewing fun. More interesting to me are the lesser roles. Mark Strong may remind you of Andy Garcia, but he does a slick, classic nefarious turn as the devious snake oil 'occultist' Lord Blackwood. Eddie Marsan gives no less than his best with Inspector Lastrade, and Canadian-born titan Robert Maillet does a nice job as the French thug Dredger (a minor role, but the guy has character, let's see him in more). Rachel McAdams as the villainous Irene Adler is...well, forgettable.
Ritchie's Holmes film is like a James Bond near the close of the 19th century. You've got a hokey, ambitious plan from a diabolic villain, a dash of steampunk gadgetry, occult imagery (the Temple of the Four Orders might remind you of the Golden Dawn meets the Freemasonry), and a lot of explosions, narrow escapes and fist fighting action. I had been wary that this would be some sort of kung fu, Matrix-style action take on Holmes, and to an extent this is the case. But his fighting style here is based more on his ability to quickly deduce and plan a combination of hits than any Bruce Lee mystique, and we are treated with equal amounts of reason and deduction in the tradition of Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction. The story is rather meek, but it works enough to keep you entertained for the 2+ hours. About the only major gripe I had was that I felt the sequel setup was too obvious. Before seeing the film and realizing Blackwood would be the villain, I deduced that Moriarty would in fact appear as a nod to a planned sequel, but once would have been enough. Instead, they pretty much hammer it into you, and I'm surprised there weren't ushers waiting outside the theater trying to sell me advanced discount tickets. The question is, who will play Moriarty?
If you shut your mind off and just want a good time, this Sherlock Holmes is worth a single trip to the theater, preferably a matinee or at a discount. It's not too violent for the kids, and they will probably appreciate Downey's approach to the character and Ritchie's direction, which as usual wastes very little time cycling through the events. The location shots and the CG are very nice in the film, there are some great slices of nighttime London from the Thames and a lot of the minor characters have a nice swagger about them. The score is not the best Hans Zimmer of recent memory, but my companion seemed to enjoy it.
Look, mom, no spoilers!
Verdict: Win [7/10] (beneath this pillow lies the key to my release)