Friday, January 11, 2013

The Sherlock Holmes of Today - Part I

Sherlock Holmes is everywhere these days. You've heard of the Robert Downey Jr. movies. You've probably seen them too. There's also a generic CBS crime drama that centers around the character. And a BBC series that has had two seasons and six episodes of pure brilliance so far. Now quick, guess which one I like best. No prize; it should be obvious.

So this post is part one of a review special that features one film franchise, two TV shows, and one iconic character.

First up is the franchise. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. And the unique thing about these films is that they are actually set in the "correct" time period, though that does not mean they've escaped updating.

Boom. Sherlock and Watson. They look the part, don't they?

Downey Jr. plays himself-- I mean, Sherlock Holmes the too-smart-for-his-britches British detective who solves London's most baffling cases using finely tuned deductive reasoning and observation skills. Jude Law is Dr. John Watson his ever-patient assistant in crime solving and flat-mate. Er, not flat-mate. John is moving out and leaving the exciting life of catching bad guys to get married to a lovely lady and settle down. Holmes isn't so keen on this idea, and does everything he can to coerce Watson into joining him on one last case. A creepy one that involves witch-craft, and apparent magic, and Mark Strong rising from the dead.

Oh yeah, and Irene Adler also shows up, in the form of Rachel McAdams.

Now, even though this film is set in the late 18oo's, it still feels like an updated version of Sherlock Holmes... just in every way except the date. Not that I can really use that as a flaw. I doubt anyone was trying for an authentic feel here. If they were, they would have cut back a little on the slow-motion explosions and stylized special effects. Or cast a Brit as Holmes. No, I'm pretty sure they were going for exactly what they achieved, and what they achieved is not bad, if slightly alarming when spoken aloud; Sherlock Holmes as an action star. And in that case, Downey Jr. was a great choice for the role. He's an old-fashioned Tony Stark, quipping and spurting out deductions as fast as we can take them.

And fortunately he does lots and lots of deducing. The mystery is intriguing, and a refreshing change - being a how-done-it instead of the usual who-done-it - and the plot unfolds in a fast-paced, fun style. But what I enjoy most about this version of Sherlock, is the relationship and chemistry between Holmes and Watson. And my favorite side of the duo is the good doctor's. Jude Law and his charming and classic rendition of Watson balances Downey Jr.'s more modern Holmes very nicely.

Above: The reasons this movie worked.

And in general, the sequel, A Game of Shadows does everything the same.

But is "the same" a good thing or a bad thing? And what about that "in general" part? I'll start with that. Basically, the amount of slow-motion stylized action sequences are doubled, and some ridiculous additions are made. Like someone being thrown from a moving train, landing safely in freezing water, and not seeming to be disturbed by it that much. Or Holmes disguising himself as a woman very badly and getting away with it. Silly. They also added super-villain Moriarty, but he was ultimately underwhelming.

Now, "the same." Creatively, that spark of freshness was just a little dull. (Eh, same old, same old...) But Downey Jr. and Law together were also the same, and that is a definite good thing. (Yay, consistency!) And since they have always been the best element of the franchise, the sequel was adequate enough, and I was, for the most part, satisfied.

Above: The reasons THIS movie worked.

To the original film, I give 3.5 stars, and to the sequel, 3.

Next up: A Sherlock Holmes television show special. Stay tuned.


  1. I have yet to see these, but a friend is bringing them over next month, and I can't wait! I once really disliked RDJ, but that all changed with The Avengers, and now I'm trying to catch up on his movies. As for Jude Law... he's always compelling! Thanks for posting a tantalizing review -- I'm really looking forward to them now!

  2. Okay, I've finally had a moment to revisit this post, now that I've seen these. And I have to say I disagree that the second wasn't as good as the first. I actually thought it was a bit better, as the plot was more focused and the mystery elements worked better.

    But I'm weirdly picky about mysteries -- I insist that no vital info be withheld from the narrator and reader, but I get disappointed if I figure out the answer before it's revealed. Which is a tricky balance, I admit. In the first movie, we didn't get all the clues (Homes wiping his finger over a bathtub -- how the heck am I supposed to know what that means??? In the books, he woulda mentioned to Watson that he detected some substance or other, but not told us what that substance was good for, still giving me the option to go google it or something). In the second, we get all the necessary data, and I was much happier.

    Okay, sorry for the really long and rambly comment. Oh, but Holmes' ridiculously bad disguises? I love them! They are obviously not going to stand up to close scrutiny, but they do what he needs them to do, give him a minute or two of extra time to get where he needs to.

    Anyway, my full thoughts are here if you're interested. I'll shut up now ;-)

    1. Ah well that makes sense, and you're right, the first mystery would be pretty hard to deduce yourself! It annoys me when information is held back too, I just never bothered with trying to figure out the mysteries in these. My enjoyment came more from Holmes and Watson's (mostly Watson's) characters and the way they play off each other and their bantering and such. But the mysteries in BBC's Sherlock are so brilliant, and they don't keep information from you either, and because I have those to watch, it doesn't really bother me that the RDJ movies don't do the mysteries as well.

      Anyway, I totally see what you mean (and you should totally watch Sherlock, I bet you'd like it) and you got a rambly comment in return! And yeah, his disguises are pretty awful and funny. :)

    2. Yeah, the interplay between Holmes and Watson in these is totally the best part.

      I saw the pilot of Sherlock and really liked it, so I just need to get the rest and watch them. I found the pilot fascinating and awesome :-D