Everything you know is wrong. Sherlock Holmes doesn’t own a deerstalker hat. Or puff one of those calabash pipes. And never in four novels and 56 short stories does he actually say: “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings, he’s a tortured neurotic reclusive coke-head martial artist. And, after almost 200 film appearances as a stuffy bore, that’s who finally shows up here.
Robert Downey Jr brings the quirks. Guy Ritchie supplies the grit. Together the star and director give the detective a much needed kick up the arse. Reimagining the super sleuth as reluctant superhero (a la Batman, Spider Man, Superman, and, yes, Ironman) their ‘Sherlock Holmes’ trades tweed for TNT.
Explosive, energetic – and, most importantly, enjoyable – it has the master of deduction pursuing the dastardly Lord Henry Blackwood in an Indiana Jonesian tale of high speed carriage chases, black magic, slow-motion fireballs, secret societies, underground fight clubs, runaway boats, and fisticuffs atop an incomplete Tower Bridge.
Add some verbal sparring with long-suffering crime fighting partner Dr Watson (“Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?” “No.”), the reappearance of the-femme-fatale-who-got-away-(twice), and a farty comedy bulldog and there’s not much time for actual puzzle solving.
But, in an inspired move highlighting Holmes’ thoughts as he methodically hands out beatings, Ritchie doesn’t let us forget that the man’s mind is as overactive as the action onscreen. Downey himself revels in the mad genius role, combining Tony Starke’s cheeky sense of fun with brief moments of comic self-pity and delivering clichéd Hollywood one-liners with just the right amount of disdain.
Jude Law, as the chief target of Sherlock’s scorn, is equally pitch perfect, his headstrong medical man no mere submissive sidekick. The British actor, for once, dumps the self importance and, as a result, easily holds his own in the to-and-fro of this crime caper. The criminally underused Rachel McAdams, through no fault of her own, has a harder time as the slippery and seductive Irene Adler barely gets a chance to hold up her side of the deal.
But, with ‘Sherlock Holmes’ ultimately just laying the groundwork for what’s likely to be a more ambitious (and inevitable) sequel, she’s certain to play a more important part when Holmes finally gets down to some real detective work. Elementary, really.