Sherlock Holmes isn’t very good, but it does give you hope that the franchise – and this achingly wants to be a long-running franchise – might some day amount to something.
In other words, it’s not a debacle, which is what I expected from a period action flick by director Guy Ritchie with Robert Downey Jr. as a butt-kicking Sherlock.
Instead, Ritchie and his team of screenwriters offer enough nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original creation to keep this from becoming a Hollywood pillage. Holmes may partake in underground boxing matches and dodge explosions in painfully elongated slow motion, but he also employs keen observation, deductive reasoning and early forensics to solve the more peculiar crimes of 1880s London (recreated with a nice mix of CGI backgrounds and massive sets).
The most interesting thing about Sherlock Holmes is that the movie suggests early on that Holmes’ unusual powers of observation are also something of a curse. He’s a shut-in when we first meet him, eventually prompted by loyal partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law) to brave a public dinner. It’s there, in the restaurant, where we learn what Holmes fears: he processes so much information so quickly that he can barely manage the data input. Like an overloaded computer, he nearly crashes.
This shade of darkness is quickly dropped, as are early hints that Watson has a gambling problem. Sherlock Holmes forsakes idiosyncrasy for blockbuster bigness. Downey and Law speak mainly in buddy banter; the action scenes become more frequent and louder; a villain plots to take over the world. As the movie progresses, the ghosts of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Wild Wild West begin to haunt its edges.
Still, Downey is charming and enough of Doyle – including the clever use of disguises – is maintained to keep you interested. Sherlock Holmes didn’t entirely click for me, yet there is something to be said for the fact that I’m not dreading the inevitable sequel.