Guy Ritchie puts his unmistakable stylistic stamp on this re-imagining of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey, Jr. plays the slightly disheveled, deranged, but brilliant Holmes, who may or may not be under the influence of various pharmaceuticals at any given moment of the film. Downey’s version of Holmes is a devilishly clever mad-scientist type who happens to be a martial arts expert, an astute observer, an alchemist, and a forensics aficionado.
He also has the amazing ability to call upon whatever skill set that a particular predicament warrants. For me, it was a little hard to swallow. However, Downey darn near pulls it off. He is completely convincing as a man slightly-off-his rocker who has a penchant for scrappy street fighting, and his performance alone is worth the price of admission.
Jude Law plays his trusty sidekick Watson, and the relationship works surprisingly well on screen. The two banter and bicker like an old married couple, and are constantly rescuing one another from certain death. The fact that Watson is engaged, and will soon be moving out of Holmes’ life, provides for some comedic moments. Holmes behaves like a petulant child during a dinner where he is to meet Watson’s betrothed, played by Kelly Reilly (Eden Lake.)
Rachel McAdams plays the romantic interest for Holmes. Badly cast and badly made-up, McAdams is not at all believable as a femme fatale who is a master manipulator and grifter. McAdams is usually a fairly solid actress, but here she just didn’t seem comfortable, and I don’t blame her.
Her character Irene is not explored at all, she is just there to provide a romantic interest. This is painfully apparent when a pivotal scene relies on Irene’s ability to diffuse a mechanical contraption. Since no mention of this skill is ever alluded to during the entire movie, when she is called over to take care of the device you just think, “Huh? Where did that come from?”
A convoluted plot is really the downfall of this movie. A string of unsolved murders has left London on edge, and the incompetent police from Scotland Yard can’t seem to make any progress on the case, so they reluctantly recruit Holmes to help them. He is kind of like television’s House (a character who was originally based off of Holmes), in that everyone despises his unconventional and dangerous methods, but they know he will get the job done, so they tolerant him.
Holmes traces the murders to a secret black magic cult who aspire to wipe out the entire parliament so that they will become the most powerful people in all of London, and poise themselves for a world takeover. Ritchie seems to get bogged down with style over substance for too much of the movie.
An opening boxing sequence shows Holmes imagining what he is going to do to his opponent in slow motion, then Ritchie speeds up the camera so fast during the actual act that you can’t tell what is going on. He employs the method one more time, during a skirmish in a dark hallway, leading you to believe that this is the way Holmes thinks.
He premeditates, then executes his actions. However, the technique is abandoned for the entire rest of the film. Did Ritchie use it merely as a means to showcase some of his technical skills? Did he forget to use it again? It seemed rather odd to place so much emphasis on this order of events, then never mention it again.
All that being said, there are some very good action sequences, and watching Holmes’ methodology is quite fascinating. Though the film is bloated, there is certainly enough fun to be had here that fans of both Downey and Ritchie should be satisfied. Be sure to stay to watch some pretty cool closing credits, as well. Scenes dissolve into comics, and they were very well done, and fitting.