Fresh on the heels of an ambitious bid to kick-start his own original franchise with the fun but overly familiar RocknRolla, Guy Ritchie may have finally accomplished that goal with Sherlock Holmes, an energetic, pulpy, and lavishly gothic mystery-adventure that merges tradition with reinvention to thrilling effect. It’s a refreshing blast of summer-blockbuster fun just when we need it most -- at the onset of winter.
The action gets under way as Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) assist Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) and Scotland Yard in interrupting a black magic ceremony being staged by the sinister Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Before Lord Blackwood is hanged, he makes one final request: an audience with the famed detective who thwarted his diabolical plans. During his conversation with Holmes, Lord Blackwood vows to return from the gallows more powerful than ever before. Making good on his promise, Lord Blackwood re-emerges with an apparent supernatural vengeance, determined to claim England as his own and exert his influence on the renegade colony across the Atlantic as well. When the corpses begin to pile up, the fate of England, and America, rests in the capable hands of the world’s most brilliant detective.
Though traditionalists may initially balk at the decision of screenwriters Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg to place heavy emphasis on Holmes’ formidable fighting skills, it certainly doesn’t come at the cost of the character’s intellect -- Downey Jr.’s Holmes is as sharp as a tack, tough as nails, and endearingly eccentric. Holmes has always been an expert boxer; by exploiting that trait and infusing the story with an element of the supernatural, Ritchie and his team of screenwriters infuse an invigorating mystery with a satisfying blend of action and exposition. The chemistry between Law and Downey Jr. ensures that the scenes between Holmes and Watson are just as enjoyable as the boisterous action set pieces; the first time you see them onscreen you get the distinct impression that they’ve already been through quite a bit together -- though like Ritchie’s breakthrough, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, his Sherlock Holmes may require at least two viewings to fully appreciate the nuances of the rapid-fire dialogue. Sporting dangerously slick villain hair and displaying the calm, collected confidence a classic villain, Strong strikes an appropriate air of menace as the malevolent Lord Blackwood. Bowler-capped Marsan plays off Downey Jr. particularly well as Inspector Lestrade, and Kelly Reilly shines in her small role as Dr. Watson’s refined yet assured fiancee.
Much like the resolution of the film’s central mystery, all of the elements in Sherlock Holmes come together perfectly. Hans Zimmer’s quirky score keeps the action moving along while cleverly calling back to Holmes’ beloved violin with the occasional plucked string arrangement, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot’s seductively dark cinematography gives London a dirty, gothic atmosphere that’s romantic without being romanticized, and the sets and costumes are all gorgeously stylized. In short, Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes has something for both the purists and fair-weather fans alike. Should the franchise continue, it will be a delight to see this Holmes and Watson embark on another onscreen adventure together. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan