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Sherlock Holmes (2010)

When I first heard that Robert Downey, Jr., was going to play Sherlock Holmes, my first thought was, “Hmm Robert Downey, Jr., a troubled genius with substance abuse problems, who recently played Tony Stark, a troubled genius with substance abuse problems, is going to play Sherlock Holmes, a troubled genius with substance abuse problems. I sense a theme.” Fortunately, as a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, I was overall quite pleased with how this adaptation (the latest in a minor crapton thereof) turned out.

Directed by Guy Ritchie, Sherlock Holmes stars, in addition to Downey, Jude “Repo Men” Law, Rachel “Red Eye” McAdams, Eddie “The Bill” Marsan, and Mark “Who the Hell is That?” Strong. Rather than adapting one of Doyle’s tales (as they’ve more or less all been done), this film follows an original story while keeping close to the spirit of the original Canon.

The opening drops us directly into the action, as Sherlock Holmes (Downey) and John Watson (Law) race against time to stop the ritual murder of a girl by Lord Henry Blackwood (Strong). They arrive and stop the ritual just in time, and shortly afterward Inspector Lestrade (Marsan) & Co. arrive to arrest Blackwood. Three months later, Holmes is bored out of his skull, while Watson is looking forward to his impending marriage to Mary Morstan (an event Holmes secretly dreads). Blackwood, calmly sitting on death row, asks to see Holmes, and during this visit he warn Holmes that there will be three more deaths that will change the world, and there isn’t a damn thing Holmes can do to stop them. Blackwood is subsequently hanged for his crimes and pronounced dead by Watson. Holmes’ old flame Irene Adler (McAdams), now a professional thief and action girl, visits the Great Detective and hires him to find a man named Reorden. In a lovely sequence depicting Holmes’ genius with disguise and improvisation, Holmes follows her as she meets with her mysterious employer, who tells her that Reorden is the key to Blackwood’s plans.

Blackwood himself apparently returns from the grave, his tomb destroyed and the quite dead Reorden left in his place. Londoners start to panic as the resurrected sorcerer is seen walking about, while Holmes and Watson follows a trail of clues that lead to Reordan’s experiments in mixing science and magic, as well as an ambush. After they survive the attack, Holmes is taken to the Temple of Four Orders, a secret magical order, who ask Holmes to stop Blackwood. However, not long afterwards two members of the TFO are killed by apparently sorcerous means, leaving Blackwood in control of the Order with world conquest coming up on his agenda. Now pursued by the police on the orders of one of the TFO secretly working with Blackwood, Holmes goes into hiding and studies Blackwood’s methods in order to deduce his next target, which is apparently Parliament. With foes closing in on all sides, Holmes, Watson, and Adler race to derail Blackwood’s plan before it is too late…

My visceral reaction to this movie was HELLS YES! Having seen a number of Holmes adaptations with varying degrees of faithfulness to the Canon, I was thrilled to see a director (and actor) brave enough to depict the Great Detective as a conceited, often irritating, prick. Likewise, Watson is not the bumbling buffoon I’ve seen in too many adaptations (*cough*Nigel Bruce*cough*) but rather a competent partner to Holmes, intelligent and charismatic even if he lacks the mind-blowing deductive powers of his famous roommate. Jude Law was an inspired casting choice, giving him the charm and wit needed to land Miss Morstan (and one or two subsequent wives besides). He bickers with Holmes, calls him out on his bad behavior, and even punches him in the face after Holmes embarrasses him in front of Mary, but there is clearly a close friendship between the two. I was afraid Irene Adler would be established as a love interest for Holmes (as happens so often), but fortunately that seemed to be fairly subdued.

The depiction of Holmes’ abilities was also well-done, established in the bareknuckle boxing ring with the bullet time analysis of how he was going to curb stomp his opponent (for spitting on the back of his head, no less), and later on with how easily he analyzes and masters even the most vexing situation (though admittedly waking up handcuffed naked to a bed was probably just a bit beyond even his abilities to escape unaided – proof that Adler knew her Holmes well). The stunts and fight scenes were well-executed without being beyond the limits of belief for either Holmes (boxer and martial artist) or Watson (a military man), and the action kept me on the edge of my seat without appearing to sell out the spirit of the mythos. One bit of trivia that amazed me was how much Downey slimmed down for this role (especially obvious in the boxing scene) before bulking right the hell back up for Iron Man 2 almost immediately afterwards.

In conclusion, if you are used to the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce “sanitized” Sherlock Holmes, give this movie a miss. But if you’re a fan of the original stories, check out this version. Holmes is a flawed, arrogant genius, and you will want to punch him… right after you finish fawning over his clear badass bookworm status.

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