not your father’s sherlock holmes


As part of our new year’s eve festivities we went out to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Now, I haven’t seen a movie in a theatre in a really long time.  I don’t see many trailers these days.  I ran across the trailer for this movie a few weeks ago and was…hmmm…what is the right word?  Flabbergasted?  Not sure…anyways, it was only slightly less alarming than the execrable trailer for Disney’s new version of A Christmas Carol.    There were rather a lot more explosions than one would expect to see in a movie set in late Victorian England and Robert Downey, Jr. (Holmes) and Jude Law (Watson) seemed odd choices for the roles.  So I admit I had my doubts about this movie before I entered the theatre.

The movie takes place immediately before Watson’s marriage to Mary.  In the books Holmes and Watson room together both before Watson’s marriage and after he is widowed.  Watson is a veteran of British escapades in Afghanistan, where he was wounded (he limps sporadically in this movie and carries a cane) and Law for the most part is creditable as a no-longer-young, no-longer-naive former soldier.  He at least can dress himself properly.  Holmes is another matter.  The movie lavishes a lot of attention on Holmes’ disorganized (at least to the untrained eye) lifestyle and really overdoes the “is he brilliant because he’s crazy or crazy because he’s brilliant?” motif.  In the books Holmes took great care with his personal appearance; Downey plays Holmes as a man who can barely button his own shirts and who apparently rarely ever shaves.  He is always unkempt and rather seedy looking.    Many of his eccentricities from the books are tossed into the movie, perhaps in an attempt to establish the general theme of a man too brilliant to care about the niceties of civilized living (target practice in his parlor, strange science experiments, violin playing, etc.) but the drug use scattered throughout the books and stories is not mentioned at all, other than Holmes’ pipe-smoking.

As much as I enjoyed watching a ripped and shirtless Downey pit-fighting  (Holmes was an accomplished pugilist and had an interest in martial arts in the books) in an obvious metaphor for his battle with his personal demons, he never really jelled as Holmes for me.   They just make him too quirky, although they do handle nicely Holmes’ love of disguises and his personal and wide-ranging knowledge of several practical fields of science (chemistry, botany, forensics).  Jude Law did a much better job of portraying Watson, an educated, sensitive, intelligent man who is both puzzled by and worried for his friend.    The movie considerably beefs up the character of Irene Adler (the only person who ever outwitted him), basically inventing a romantic and sexual relationship between them and making her responsible (in a roundabout way) for bringing Moriarty into Holmes’ life.   I am not sure where in the Holmes chronology he met Irene but I think it likely that the movie messes with that in the interests of having an attractive and scantily clad woman at some point in the movie (neither Mrs. Hudson or Watson’s fiancee would have been appropriate) and of course someone for him to save.  Moriarty is nothing but a shadow, leaving open the obvious hook for a sequel (or ten).  He also seems like little more than an afterthought and the movie labors mightily to connect him to the story at hand.  At one point Irene tells Sherlock that Moriarty is “as smart as you and much more devious”; we have to take her word for it since next to nothing is seen of the man or his big brain.

The movie begins with a racing-against-time sequence, wherein Holmes and Watson rescue a young woman from the clutches of a dark arts using member of the nobility.  As is often the case in the Holmes stories the police arrive late and get all the credit (which is OK with Holmes; he rarely takes public credit for his work other than permitting Watson to write chronicles of his cases).    I have not read the stories in many years (Wikipedia and some other Holmesiana sites have buffed my memory for this review) but the movie does not appear based on any particular Conan Doyle story.   The basic plot hinges on an attempt by the aforesaid evil Lord Blackwood to take over England and the world in order to usher in his own new world order.  The cast aside reference to a regime that will “last for millenia” is apparently intended as an oblique reference to the Nazis.  There is a lot of pseudo-Masonic/Illuminati mumbo-jumbo, with a bit of a touch of white man’s burden (the old white dudes all pat themselves on the back when they tell Holmes how well they have managed the world from behind the scenes).  The story moves briskly along and it doesn’t really pay to spend too much time dwelling on it lest you start asking questions for which there are no answers.  Why did Irene drug Holmes and leave him naked and cuffed to a bed?  Why did Blackwood kill his father?   Is there really an antidote to cyanide gas poisoning that is ingested by mouth hours before exposure to the gas?  How could three people survive relatively unscathed (Watson and Irene got a few scratches) an explosion big enough to destroy half  the London docks?  How does one escape through the London sewer system and emerge at the top of a partially constructed Tower Bridge?  What’s up with the raven?  As in all the stories, the denouement comes as Holmes tells the criminal all the places where he went wrong, all the clues he left, and all of Holmes’ brilliant deductive reasoning.  Not as in all the stories, the bad guy then comes to a rather spectacular and implausible end, the girl is saved, Holmes realizes the real criminal mastermind got away, and the game is afoot.

And that was the movie.  In a day or so, I will forget all about it.  Except for the naked Robert Downey Jr. bits.

Score: Meh


~ by gun street girl on January 1, 2010.

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