© 2009 Ray Wong
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are probably two of the most well-known and beloved literary characters in the world. So how would director Guy Ritchie attempt to make them fresh and relevant to 21st century audiences? By casting the ever-popular Iron-Man as Holmes, of course.
Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) are partners in solving crimes in turn-of-the-century London. Their latest case leads them to Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who has killed five women already while practicing his dark magic. With the help of Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marson), they're able to capture Blackwood. The problem for Holmes is that he has nothing to do while awaiting Blackwood's execution. Watson tries to get Holmes out of the house, and introduces Holmes to his fiance, Mary (Kelly Reilly). Holmes shows no interest in either. Before his execution, Blackwood promises Holmes they will meet again and next time, he will drive Holmes mad.
Then Holmes' nemesis, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), shows up meddling with Holmes' affairs. He wants to find out for whom Irene works. Meanwhile, Lord Blackwood is seen rising from his grave. His resurrection shakes London and puzzles Holmes and Watson, who don't believe in magic. But the fact is there: Watson was the one who pronounced Blackwood's death! To prevent the "end of England" as Blackwood has promised, Holmes and Watson must race against time and risk their lives to solve the mystery.
Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) gives Holmes a much-needed update with superb energy and charm. His Holmes, however, comes across as an alter-ego for Tony Stark instead of a methodological scientific man of logic and reasons. More often than not, I find Downey unconvincing as the famed sleuth. Perhaps I'm biased by the previous Holmeses; perhaps I find Downey's performance too perky and goofy for my taste.
Jude Law (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) is, on the other hand, perfect as Watson with his cool charm and slightly awkward mannerisms. He's at once very old British and contemporary. It does help that he and Downey have good chemistry together and their bickering is fun to watch. Rachel McAdams (The Time Traveler's Wife) is spunky and sharp as Irene, but somehow her role as the "third banana" is lost in the plot. In fact, her character seems extraneous in this story. Certainly she could be a major player in future sequels, but in this film she's almost a throwaway character.
Mark Strong (Young Victoria) is appropriately evil as Lord Blackwood, but he, too, doesn't have much to do except to appear and act evil. His character is poorly drawn and lacks depth. Eddie Marson (Me and Orson Welles) is effective as Inspector Lestrade. Kelly Reilly's (Pride & Prejudice) talent is rather wasted as Mary, but William Houston (Fifty Dead Men Walking) is sympathetic as Constable Clark.
Written by an army of writers including Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham (Invictus), the screenplay shows the haphazard nature of the process. It's busy, complicated, and it sometimes lacks coherence. I was having a bit of a hard time understanding the dialogue and the plot early on. As the story progresses, I was able to find the coherence and understand it better. Still, there are too many "distractions" that do not serve the plot or even the character development. They seem superfluous.
I do enjoy the interactions between Holmes and Watson, and to some extent the interactions between them and Irene Adler. I just wish the writers could balance those better with the plot advancement and keep everything as seamless as possible.
Director Guy Ritchie (RocknRolla) tries too hard to be hip and contemporary while making a movie about turn-of-the-century London. The sets are great, the special effects are superb, and the costumes are beautiful. The production is handsome and looks expensive. But the lack of coherence and focus is partially Ritchie's fault. The editing seems choppy and the MTV-style of camera movements and angles can become disconcerting.
Not to mention the fact that mysteries are fun to watch because the audience could deduce the outcomes and figure out the clues. The main problem I find with this story is that there just aren't that many clever clues, or resolutions, for that matter. The main mystery is predictable. As for the rest, the filmmakers make the unfortunate decision to gloss over all the clues, and then have Sherlock Holmes explain everything at the end with rapid-fire commentaries. That's not what I expect from a mystery. In fact, the whole movie is more of an action-adventure thriller. The mystery is secondary. If that's what we want, I don't have a problem with that.
As an action-adventure, Sherlock Holmes is fun and entertaining and fulfills its goal of luring young people to these characters and old settings. It probably succeeds in making Sherlock Holmes and John Watson hip and relevant again. But as a mystery, it fails on many levels, what with the lame clues, the predictable outcome, and extraneous subplots and characters. It is a disappointment for mystery fans, and it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure that one out.
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Robert Maillet, Geraldine James, Kelly Reilly, William Houston
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg, Lionel Wigram (based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's characters)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, suggestive material
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.0 out of 10