Sherlock Holmes is positing itself as a new beginning for the iconic Baker Street detective, even going so far as to set itself up for a sequel with its series’ most recognizable villain much in the same way that Batman Begins did with the Joker. Only problem is, it’s not an entirely effective reboot. For starters, it’s plagued by a blockbuster mindset, which means for every interesting scene featuring Holmes’ skills of deduction, we’re treated to a scene of fisticuffs, or explosions, or large propelling CGI objects — such as ship anchors — whizzing by and narrowly missing the heroes.
Some of these action sequences might have been somewhat amusing if they didn’t feel so stale and recycled, or if their special effects were actually special and didn’t appear to be so outdated. When you open your film against Avatar, make sure it doesn’t look like it just stepped out of The Mummy’s school of special effects wizardry. The excess of bad CGI pulled me right out of the movie.
The strengths? There are two: Robert Downey, Jr. (in a role he was so obviously right for, that I’m surprised it took us so long to notice), and Jude Law. Downey’s been on a roll lately, and this is his second assured franchise since Iron Man, but Law is receiving less attention for his performance, which is a great foil to Downey’s eccentric Holmes. The two of them have effortless chemistry and I’d watch a sequel just for more of their back-and-forth bickering.
But that’s really the most credit that can be given. The film’s too long — it didn’t need to be more than two hours — and the script just goes through all the most predictable motions. Guy Ritchie’s direction is distinct enough that the picture’s style avoids being generic, but he’s too proud of his slow-motion sequences and when he does decide to film an action sequence at full speed, it’s edited so quick and tight that you can’t really tell who’s punching whom. When Sherlock rescues the Damsel In Distress (Rachel McAdams, giving what may easily be the worst performance of her career), the whole thing happens so fast that whatever clever reasoning he just employed to save her is lost on the audience.
Sherlock Holmes is more Van Helsing than Batman Begins, but there’s a lot of room for improvement here, and I smell franchise potential. With a better director (or, at least, the same director willing to sacrifice his directorial vices for the sake of the story), and a better screenplay, the next one could be a real delight. This one’s just a fairly passable end-of-the-year distraction, rendered worthy of a home viewing thanks to strong performances lost amidst a clutter of gratuitous action and CGI.