Sherlock Holmes

London at the turn of the century.

OK. It’s a bit of ‘Choose Your Own Review’ today. I’ll be your narrator. You have just seen the Sherlock Holmes trailer. It has a bunch of explosions, some stilted dialogue, and a bit of fighting. Are you:

  1. Thrilled that it seems they’ve ditched that pesky mystery crap that Holmes has to deal with usually and thrown him into a solidly structured action-o-rama. Scroll to Heading One.
  2. Amused but concerned that the core of Sherlock Holmes may be completely absent from the film, and indeed, that it may be shite on a level similar to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Scroll to Heading Two.
  3. You didn’t care either way. Scroll to Heading Three.

Heading One

You’ll feel ripped off by this film. All the action in the movie has pretty much been seen in the trailer, and all the bits that weren’t there involve the Great Detective… detecting. WTF? Also Holmes and Watson are, like, totally gay. OMG. Boring, lame and gay. And you don’t even see Rachel McAdams in the corset she wore in the trailer.

Heading Two

You’re me.1 Congratulations. Not just because you’re generally awesome, but also because this review is largely relevant to you. I don’t really understand those other two. Don’t make eye contact. Follow me.

I’ve always been a bit of a Holmes fan. The Hound of the Baskervilles has long been a favourite, and possibly is my most re-read book ever. I have some really nice collections of all his stories that I’m very seriously meaning to read at some point. Oh alright. I’m a pretty average Holmes fan. But I know what I like. And I liked this. I reckon there’s three things you really need to tell a good Holmes story, and this movie has those things.

Firstly, you need your leads. You need an unflinching portrayal of Holmes. He’s a dick, a social misfit. Don’t shy away from that. Oh alright, I understand you probably can’t go near the drug use without upping the rating. But don’t shy away from the rest. And while you’re not compromising, don’t you dare make him stupid, either. Or if he is going to be stupid, it has to be in a logical sort of way. Which leaves the way for a good portrayal of Watson, as the emotive, humanising link between Holmes and society. There’s a few moments in the film where they draw the relationship between the two wonderfully. Holmes’ trick with the fortune teller. Holmes deeply offending Watson’s fiancé. Watson starting to realise that he can’t really let go of his life with Holmes.

Secondly, you need a decent mystery plot. Like quite a few of the Holmes stories, the mystery is less ‘whodunnit’ but ‘howdunnit’. Guy Ritchie’s quick flashes of past visuals as Holmes explains his reasoning are particularly helpful in making the whole seem generally plausible, even when I’m sure with less skillful writing and direction, the same ideas would have seemed like complete rubbish. The main disappointment with the plot of the film is that the villain’s motive is “take over the British Empire”, which in old-timey scale is rather like starting off with the Daleks wanting to destroy REALITY ITSELF in the first episode of Doctor Who. There’s not really much room to escalate things in the sequel.

Thirdly, you want the themes to be spot on. Holmes has to solve things with logic and deduction; even if his unerring ability to divine the exact details of people’s holiday plans from a scuff mark on their shoe looks like magic, it’s got to be explainable. And the film doesn’t put a foot wrong here. In keeping with the time of the stories, there’s a lot of interest in the supernatural, and communing with the dead. This stuff all works well, and it builds up a bit of suspense around whether or not there are dark forces at work. From early on in the film, Holmes is unfazed by this–he reasons that even if the explanation is supernatural, he’ll still be able to use reason to decipher it. This seems to me the right way to handle it. Mind you, I’ve not yet gone back to Hound of the Baskervilles to see exactly what his reaction was to the idea that a giant flaming hound was terrorising Dartmoor.

So, there’s your three. There’s a few other elements worth throwing in. Humour–check. The film is far funnier than some of the trailers would lead you to believe. Holmes in disguise–check. And cleverly handled as well. Some lesser-known elements of the Holmes stories, such as boxing and gambling. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve grabbed one of the most interesting female characters and thrown her in to disrupt Holmes and Watson’s sausage fest. Rachel McAdams charms your socks off as the charismatic, manipulative, yet caring Irene Adler. Between her and Watson’s fiancée, the writers have done a good job inserting a female touch without it feeling contrived.

In summary: hurrah, it’s a good, fun, modern Sherlock Holmes film. Hopefully we won’t have to wait 24 years for the next one.2

Heading Three

I’m impressed you even bothered to come down here. Why did you even click on this review in the first place? What’s wrong with you? Leave this place.

  1. Well, alright, not completely. I do have some corset-related disappointment in common with option 1.
  2. What? How could you not love Young Sherlock Holmes?
Madam, I need you to remain calm and trust me: I'm a professional. Beneath this pillow lies the key to my release. — Sherlock Holmes

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