When I first saw trailers for Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes I was more than a little unenthusiastic. Recently Mr. Ritchie hasn't necessarily been "kicking out the jams" since Snatch. In fact all of his films since have been downright abysmal. Let's hope his abilities as a film director were only sapped by his ex-wife because Holmes is a surprisingly massively entertaining effort.
The film certainly isn't for everyone, i would suspect fans of the usual incarnations of Sherlock on film will be severly dissapointed. I am neither a Holmes fan in books, TV, or film (except The Great Mouse Detective). I vaguely know the character, I know Watson, I know who Irene Adler is, and i know who Moriarty is. It is with that knowledge I walked into Sherlock Holmes not expecting much.
The idea of the great detective portrayed as an action hero can seem absurd but Robert Downey Jr. makes it work. Sure, Holmes is excellent at fisticuffs but when you watch Downey playing the detective between the explosions and shoot outs you can see a character he has made up in his head. Usually it is what is between the lines that makes Downey's take so entertaining to watch, if you keep your eye on him when others are talking you'll notice he's usually staring at different objects in the room. You get a sense he's observing things everyone else is overlooking and that sense feels like a great pay off by the end when Sherlock unravels the mystery by going back through the film chronologically deducing logically the riddle of the case. Actions that seemed like nervous ticks or Downey just being plain weird actually turn out to be Holmes solving the case.
Thankfully the script here is heavy on action and smarts. If you can't accept Holmes as a stuntman then you'll miss out completely on the many riddles the film has to share. Nearing the end i was worried the film would go somewhere i didn't want it to but Sherlock makes quick work of every loose end leaving you more than just satisfied but also completely entertained. Guy Ritchie makes great use of his usual directorial style here. I didn't think the two would mesh well but he uses his stylistic methods sparingly thankfully making it not feel like "Snatch Holmes". That being said however there are some great camera tricks, some terrific use of slow motion photography, and some truly excellent audio work that makes the film unique.
I also have to say that i feel this is some of Jude Law's best work. As Doctor Watson, Law plays an intelligent and loyal counterpart to Holmes. Law's Watson is also a formidable fighter as here he was an ex-soldier in the Afghan wars but again between all the action is another terrific take on the character. I had my doubts that Law would be able stand outside of Downey's shadow but he does it here effortlessly. Watching the two together going over a crime scene or taking out the baddies is nothing short of popcorn movie gold. The best scenes of the film are between Watson and Downey as they play out a seemingly lovers quarrel. In fact the subplot of Watson getting engaged and moving out of 221B Baker Street and the effect that is having on the relationship between Holmes and Watson is the most engaging element of the story.
Unfortunately these two behemoths cast their shadows over the rest of cast. Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler is completely competent but she just can't hold a candle to the other two personalities overtaking the film. And as for the villianous Lord Blackwell played by Andy Garcia... oh sorry i meant Mark Strong, the two big characters make what should be a terrifying baddie into a fumbling bully.
I deduce that this film is highly entertaining. I'm talking Star Trek levels of entertainment. This is the kinda film you don't take home to mother but rather a film you go out dancing with and buy drinks.
If you're an old fan of Holmes this may not be your cup of tea but for those willing to be entertained you could do much worse than this neatly packaged well acted and completely satisfying picture.