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Movie Review | Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock (Robert Downey Jr) tries the delicate approach in Sherlock Holmes

Movie summary: Detective Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson engage in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis whose plot is a threat to all of England. (IMDb)

It took me years to get around to watching Sherlock Holmes for the first time, assuming that it was going to be a typical Guy Ritchie movie (meaning probably not very good, with Snatch remaining my favourite movie of his by some distance), but was pleasantly surprised when I finally wound up watching it. It's not a particularly brilliant film, with a number of very obvious issues, but it's still a lot of fun to watch thanks to the two leads.

Robert Downey Jr leads the way, albeit with a strange accent that doesn't really fit at all with the location, but weirdly matches his quirky portrayal of Holmes. I know that Sherlock Holmes can be a bit of an oddball character at the best of times, but Downey's version is probably the strangest I've ever seen - although at least this makes you want to keep watching, as you're never quite sure what he's going to do next.

Ably assisting the great detective is Jude Law's Watson, who essentially plays the straight man to Downey's weirdo Holmes. This especially could have been a very boring role, but Law does bring a lot of life to the character and it's clear that both he and Downey are enjoying themselves, combining with such effortless chemistry that the movie does feel lesser when they aren't together on-screen.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems Sherlock Holmes (the movie, that is) has is Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler. While she is acknowledged as the only person to ever 'defeat' Holmes, that's very much a case of telling and not showing because she certainly doesn't live up to that reputation here. I feel sorry for McAdams, who is genuinely entertaining with what she's given, even though it isn't all that much.

I get that the focus is on Holmes and Watson, but I don't get why you would tarnish a potentially excellent character like Irene Adler in this manner. McAdams and the character do get their moments to shine, but they're only brief moments and Adler is otherwise outshone by all the men in the story. In the end, her arc feels very much like it was written and approved by men without any input from women considering how little there is for her.

Another problem is one of the villains, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). He's such a one-note character with so little depth to him that he never feels like a threat to Holmes because he's so obviously evil and devious that you know he can't possibly win. Strong does as much as he can with poor material, but Blackwood definitely comes across like a Saturday morning cartoon caricature of a villain instead of an antagonist people will remember.

John Watson (Jude Law), Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) join forces in Sherlock Holmes

The look of the movie also suffers when trying for larger-scale moments, with the VFX used to create these scenes a little too obvious in retrospect thanks to how much technology has advanced in the last decade. It's not bad by any measure, but very obviously not real too, resulting in making Victorian London feel inauthentic and never quite like a real place.

With the story this movie has, it was absolutely the best decision to focus as much as this movie does on Holmes and Watson. I get that they're one of the most famous fictional pairings ever and so them being together is expected, but the other characters are written so thinly that there was never any chance of anything upstaging that particular status quo.

Many blockbusters these days are considered 'safe' or 'designed by committee' and Sherlock Holmes feels very much like it deserves both of those descriptors. Aside from the poor treatment of the female characters the rest is otherwise inoffensive and Downey and Law have charm to spare, keeping the audience's attention on them and the story because you want to see how they get out of the various situations they find themselves, not because those scenarios are particularly interesting themselves.

Despite the criticisms I have, Sherlock Holmes is still a good movie and I did thoroughly enjoy seeing it again for this review. It's also entirely understandable why a sequel was made with how much fun Downey and Law were having, which absolutely transmits itself to the audience. I think most people would enjoy watching this movie, but they'll probably forget they saw it within a week.

Sherlock Holmes is a fun piece of fluff that almost anyone should enjoy as long as they don't go into this expecting anything too cerebral. Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law's chemistry is what really makes things work here, elevating material that is hardly challenging for them, but could prove horrific in less capable hands. An entirely pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.


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