The last big action movie of the year has finally arrived, and it packs a punch...literally! Director Guy Ritchie proves more than capable at delivering an accessible and entertaining star vehicle that holds true to his roots in providing enough grit and action to keep fans on the edge of their seat. The perfect way to cap off the year, Sherlock Holmes will be on almost anyone's favorite movies of the year list.
Detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his stalwart companion Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) believe they have solved their final case after the capture and execution of the evil Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). As Watson plans to head off on his own to Holmes chagrin they learn that witnesses have seen Lord Blackwood “rise from the grave.” In trying to figure out if Blackwood is alive or dead Holmes is hired by ex-lover Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) on behalf of her mysterious boss Professor Moriarty.
Purists of the Guy Ritchie school of directing might see Sherlock Holmes as the director's “popcorn” picture, but while it may not have all his sensibilities of something like his past films, the movie more than delivers on everything the director feels the need to include. There's a fascinating mystery that keeps everyone guessing, the action is layered and intense and the laughs are diverse. Ritchie includes aspects reminiscent of his past works including replaying scenes from different angles to show how Holmes pulls off some of his daring escapades. Nothing feels repetitive as it allows the audience to see things again in case they aren't understood and it makes for a fun second viewing as you notice more. This is definitely a film that benefits from repeated theater and DVD viewings. Some of have criticized Ritchie's excessive use of slow motion but here he finds his niche with the technique. Holmes has several moments where he goes over the plans on incapacitating an assailant and the slow-motion works so well. It's also used to great effect during Holmes' boxing match. The match brings up the fantastic action scenes used in the movie. For a PG-13 film the movie has some drawn-out acts of violence that will have you on the edge of your seat. A scene with Irene and a slaughterhouse was particularly tense. The poor girl tied up to a conveyor belt as shots of dead pigs being cut in half is both shocking and intense. This is a movie that will hold you breathless until the very end. The story itself is also intriguing as Holmes and Watson try several times to capture the evil Lord Blackwood, a man who touts magical powers. When the end finally unfolds you smile at how obvious certain things were and how Holmes was able to put everything together.
The cast is what makes the entire film work as the story only works with a smart cast that can make the mystery seem plausible. Downey and Law are the best of the bunch and they are this generation's new odd couple. Their rapid-fire dialogue is filled with jokes and one-liners that will keep audiences in stitches. The entire movie could have followed their exploits without a running story and it would be just as entertaining. The movie opens with them on the verge of splitting with Watson set to marry the beautiful Mary (Kelly Reilly). Their bond is one that is established as deep within the first five minutes and while Holmes may seem insensitive to Mary in a certain dinner scene, Downey conveys the emotion as losing a cherished friend. The two men are brothers through and through and they both show they respect each other, yet they know what makes the other tick. Some of the funniest scenes involve Holmes doing things he knows irritates Watson like experimenting on his dog Gladstone. The women are gorgeous and courageous as well, a rarity in these types of movies. McAdams is the perfect femme fatale as Irene Adler, a woman that is considered Holmes equal. She's beautiful but extremely devious with a soft spot for the detective. Reilly on the other hand is the sweet, graceful Mary and while she doesn't have much screen time, her scenes with Law are adorable and provide the perfect amount of romance.
Mark Strong doesn't fare as well as the main villain, Lord Blackwood. He's cunning and sneaky but there's never overt fear. We're introduced to him as his reign of terror is ending and there are only fleeting references to the heinous crimes he committed. The audience is purely told he's some sort of Satanist but it's never truly terrifying. The movie also makes a big deal of introducing Professor Moriarty, and news sources reported several big actors playing the role but when his face is never shown it's a huge letdown. It's easy to see this is all a set-up for a sequel but it would have been nice to get a big actor to fill in the slot temporarily.
Holmes is fun, witty and smart, one of the best action comedies (with a mysterious overtone) to come out in years. Holmes and Watson have set themselves up for further adventures and if the debut is anything to go off of, they'll be providing laughs and actions that will consistently deliver. Sherlock Holmes get a 4.5/5.