When you think of Sherlock Holmes, images of a drunken, disheveled, bare-knuckled brawler probably don’t leap to mind.
Instead of the calm, measured even-keel crime solver, this Holmes is a bombastic mixture of Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Batman. Only the setting and the names remain the same.
If you can suspend disbelief and pretend this is not the famous staid resident of 221B Baker Street but some new-fangled Victorian sleuth with an attitude and a death wish, Sherlock Holmes is enjoyable as they come.
If, however, you shudder to think that there could be anything other than a herringbone deerstalker perched atop our detective’s neatly coiffed head, well… run the other way.
Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is pitted against the satanic (you’ll think of Dracula more than once) Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), an evil master of sorcery bent on reclaiming the world for Mother England and ruling it (the whole world) himself.
As part of his fiendish (aye, ‘fiendish’!) plan, he’s already murdered five women before the movie starts and is in the process of a sixth when his plans are foiled (with fisticuffs and nightsticks) by our hero and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law).
Sentenced to death and (presumably) hanged, Blackwood rises from the ‘dead’, and the game, as they say, is afoot.
It is a fun game, to be sure, with superb editing and cinematography, a witty script, and some inspired bits of fight choreography, all made that much better thanks to director Guy Ritchie’s unique vision. As Holmes works to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, you can even catch a glimpse of what The Da Vinci Code might have been.
Rachel McAdams does her best as Irene Adler, Holmes’ conniving-foil-turned-Girl-Friday, but ultimately she proves more of a throw-away, as if her character is there solely to allow for some sex appeal on the movie poster.
Law is excellent as the Holmes’ wingman– quick with a revolver, bucketfuls of sane reasoning, and an almost spousal devotion to his friend.
But it is Downey’s stellar performance as Holmes (though clearly not your grandfather’s Holmes) that helps push the movie to a higher level. He plays the detective as both Jekyll and Hyde– at (most) times a madman, at other (when it counts) times, a master of keen observation and shrewd intelligence.