So you know how some girls go all fangirl over Twilight? Well, I go all fangirl over Sherlock Holmes. No, seriously. It’s bordering on psychotic. I love Holmes. I’ve read all the stories dozens if not hundreds of times—give me a line from one of the stories and nine times out of ten I’ll place it. I have very strong opinions about canon, and the unauthorized “sequels” (do NOT get me started on The Beekeper’s Apprentice), and the homoeroticism between Holmes and Watson, and Holmes’s misogyny and his relationship to Irene Adler. I was, literally, bouncing while waiting for the movie to start.
That said, I was expecting this movie to be “okay.” Not brilliant, but Robert Downey Jr’s in it so it couldn’t be toooo awful. And, well—if you’ve spoken to anyone who’s seen it or done even a brief google search, you will probably have heard that this movie is “okay, good but not great.” And that is an entirely accurate assessment.
First, though: Robert Downey Jr is fantastic. He’s a new, grittier Holmes. It’s quite a humorous script, and he pulls off the funny while staying true to Holmes’s sometimes mechanical and forlorn character. The scenes where he is wallowing in misery, especially the first wherein Watson is trying to make him do something, anything, are brilliantly done. Jude Law is quite good as Watson, too. He doesn’t have as much to work with, script-wise, but what he does have he does well.
I found the story slightly disappointing. Choosing to do a storyline involving dark magic and occult orders and whatnot just seems like a lazy way to take advantage of the current fantasy/magic craze. It was obvious that all the magic would be explained away with science (it is a Holmes story, after all), or at the very least “science,” so it didn’t really hold my interest. It all just seemed… unnecessary, and un-Holmesian. A sharp, gripping story could easily have been written using no fake magical elements. I mean, it’s a totally feasible story; the late Victorians loved magic and the occult and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself took pictures of fairies. But I would have been so much happier without the smoke and mirrors.
The script was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. A lot of humor was thrown in, especially in the fight scenes. Really, between the jokes and the overly-impressive fighting on the parts of Watson and Holmes, it sometimes felt like watching a Jackie Chan movie. (Don’t get me wrong, Holmes knows how to box. But… probably not like this.) The movie was an interesting blend of gritty realism and absurdity. And it was beautiful; sets, costumes, everything was beautiful. Dark, but beautiful. Holmes was a little more disheveled than is entirely accurate, but RDJ pulled it off.
And I loved the little things they included from the stories: when Watson correctly identifies a watch as belonging to a drunk, he is using the exact same reasoning utilized by Holmes in “The Sign of Four” to identify the watch of Watson’s brother; and when Holmes shoots “V.R.” into the wall he is exactly replicating one of his “queer humours” from “The Musgrave Ritual” (for “Victoria Regina”—Holmes is nothing if not a loyal Briton). Cute. I approve.
So overall, the movie is, as expected, pretty okay.
But now we need to talk about Irene Adler. Because really, what the hell. Way to run rampant with the canon.
I haven’t really complained yet about the liberties the script takes with the canon, because it’s only to be expected in a movie like this that’s supposed to be some kind of reinvention. I haven’t complained about the Mary Morstan nonsense (they totally rewrote that storyline), or about how Holmes was petulantly attempting to prevent Watson from getting married, or about Holmes’s fighting.
But I cannot keep quiet about Irene Adler.
I understand the desire to have a female lead in this story, to attract/mollify some female viewers who would not otherwise have wanted to watch a story about two men fighting male criminals with the help of a male police force. I understand. But Irene Adler? She holds a very specific place in the canon. The only woman to outwit Holmes, a woman he regards so highly that he always refers to her as The Woman. She is unique and extraordinary. And there is a) no romance between them, implied or otherwise, and b) no altercation between them aside from “A Scandal in Bohemia.” According to the movie, Irene Adler has already outwitted Holmes twice before the movie begins. No.
I possibly would have put up with bringing her back as an antagonist or a protagonist or both. Possibly. But to imply a love interest? Like I said, I have very strong feelings about Holmes’s misogyny. He just… doesn’t. like. women. It happens. Watson is the ladies’ man in these stories, if you felt romance was absolutely necessary have him hitch up with someone. (I mean, you did, but he’d already caught his fish by the time the movie started.)
Why is it so difficult for everyone to believe that Holmes admires Irene Adler because she outfoxed him, not because he wants to get in her skirts? Why why why? This has always been a sore point with me, in case that weren’t obvious, and of everything in this movie it bothered me the most.
Okay. Rant over.
But in general, quite a good film, quite pretty, RDJ is fantastic and Jude Law is close behind. I’m not going to call it a must-see, but… you won’t waste your time. It’s pretty okay; good, but not great.
And you get to see Robert Downy Jr without his shirt on. It’s all about the little things, people.