Even though I was looking for more suspense, this blaze of action keeps the entertainment value high.
Sherlock Holmes is the most adapted fictional character of all time. In a very smart move, Ritchie has decided to buck all origin aspects, understanding that we know more about this character's backstory then he could ever hope to tell us. Guy's never been one to bore the audience with erroneous exposition. The film opens with what could be the ending of that first unseen film. Holmes and Watson are working with Inspector Lestrade (the great Eddie Marsan) to solve a crime. Downey looks draggled. Without fully establishing him has a hophead, we suspect that he may be under the influence of narcotics. He is sweaty and tired, and eases into this particular role like a bum resting comfortably in a dumpster. Holmes is a super hero of sorts. He has the uncanny ability to perfectly surmise any given situation. Using his usual visual tricks of the trade, Ritchie drags us into Holmes mindset, and it's an internal ride that is as exhilarating as it is unique.
That said, the film is never flashy. Guy Ritchie has matured as a director. Here he protects and utilizes his story first and foremost. He doesn't rely on quick-cuts or slo-mo gun reveals. You can feel the confidence in the structuring. It's his best film to date thematically. While this may look like a revved up modern day Holmes squeezed through a contemporary action quill, Ritchie and Silver managed to stay quite true to the mythology of this particular sleuth. It's perhaps the most truly realized version of the detective ever seen, and does Doyle's collective masterworks proud. Some people have scoffed at the kung-fu aspects wrung through Downey's fists. But a look back at Basil Rathbone's incarnation of Sherlock Holmes finds more than a few bar room brawls mirroring what is being shown on screen here. This is more a loving tribute than it is anything else.
In fact, the film falls quite in line with Barry Levinson's 1985 Steven Spielberg produced Young Sherlock Holmes. (Maybe that's episode one?) As both films rely heavily on the occult. Only, Levinson's film had us believing in the devil, while Ritchie finds a truthful and adequate way of explaining away all of the black magic that confronts Holmes and Watson in this new incarnation. Because of this ruse, it's also hard not to think of Dan Aykroyd's 1987 version of Dragnet. As it, too, has a very similar storyline. And Joe Friday's methods aren't that far removes from Holmes. Mark Strong is our Emil Muzz, and he proves to be a sexier catch than our two leads. He stars as Lord Blackwood, an occult leader that is attempting to overthrow parliament. He dies within the first twenty minutes, but comes back as a ruthless ghost hell bent on murdering some of his more established collogues. All the while, a mysterious figure looms in the background intrigued by this game of witchcraft. Hmm? Who could this shadowy figure be?
No sh*t, Sherlock.
While the death metal aspects of the script keep it humming along at a rigorous pace, it's really Homes and Watson's camaraderie that sail this musty ship home. Dr. John Watson has always been our eyes into this world. Through him, we've come to know and understand Holmes and his particular drug-induced alignments. Jude Law nails this otherwise stodgy persona to the wall and breathes new life into its bones. While he's supposed to be the secondary sidekick, his winning smile and sternness push him to the forefront of the screen. He has an easy way with Holmes, as if he's been looking over this rambunctious pet dog for years. He's a super nanny of sorts, and Law is capable of drawing the more personable qualities of Downey's Sherlock out in the open. When we first meet them, Watson is moving out of Sherlock's home to be with a woman. Holmes is taking this new change a little hard, and in one of the most telling scenes, he has a glass of wine thrown in his face by Mary Morstan, Watson's fiance. Sitting silent, knowing he's just crippled his best friend, a dribble of red wine rolls down Holmes cheek. It's a synthetic tear streaked across the face of a man who refuses to cry on his own dime. It's both subtle and beautiful, giving a heap of resonance and meaning to this weird love triangle of sorts.
Sherlock doesn't have to cry wine tears for too long, though. He is soon thrown into the life of a wench that one-ups him every single time at bat. Rachael McAdams is Irene Adler, Holmes' love interest and foil of sorts. They've known each other for a while, and their on-screen relationship is a strong one. The female characters usually fall to the wayside in a film like Sherlock Holmes, but McAdams doesn't let her heroine drown beneath male machismo. Instead, she appears to be one of the smarter people on screen. And her true plight and alliance with Moriarty is never discovered by Holmes (not in this film, at least). Is it because she's smarter than him? Or is it because he is smitten? That's something we'll have to discover in the sequel. And yes. This is pretty good. There will definitely be a second Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes. Guaranteed.
Guy's made a fun and adventurous outing. It never gets bogged down in its own sleuthing skills, and the story is worthy of Doyle himself. It's the perfect film for your Christmas Day activities.