I’ve got a mystery for Sherlock Holmes to solve, the what-the-heck-is-going-on-in-this-movie mystery. Perhaps the detective work in Sherlock Holmes would have been fun if director Guy Ritchie invited the audience to be a part of it. Instead he delivers a bloated script almost entirely impossible to connect to. Give the basic information, show some action and get on with it!
The film opens with a deviant Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) nabbing Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) in the midst of one of his satanic rituals, stopping him just before he can take the life of another young woman. Case closed, right? Wrong! Blackwood seemingly rises from the dead freaking out just about everyone from the lowliest London resident to lead police Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan). They should be worried because Blackwood has plans to take over the world using potions, booby traps and a whole lot of connivery.
The resurgence of the Blackwood case puts a snag on Watson’s (Jude Law) plan to move out of 221B Baker Street to start a life with the woman he hopes to marry, Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly). Holmes isn’t pleased to lose his housemate, doctor, partner and friend, but is satisfied with Watson’s inability to pass on assisting him with the Blackwood case. To complicate matters further, Holmes is visited by his beautiful yet manipulative old flame Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). She’s covertly been employed by an ominous dark figure trying to solve the mysteries behind Blackwood’s activities for himself.
If only it were that simple. Sherlock Holmes’ plot is ridiculously complex making it extremely difficult to get into. It doesn’t help that the majority of the first half of the film is only moderately entertaining. You’re forced to put your mind to work in order to keep up with the action only to realize the payoff isn’t even worth the effort. By the time you reach any decent action sequences you’re so exhausted you’d rather just fast forward to the end.
The film’s sole high point comes a little over half way through the film, the slaughterhouse scene. This is a brilliantly shot and perfectly paced sequence guaranteed to get your heart racing. The stakes are high for about twenty minutes, but the exhilaration slowly fizzles out leaving you bored, yet again.
Downey, Jr. puts on a good show, but is drowned in a talk-heavy script. Yes, I know the whole play-by-play during which Holmes dissects the evildoer’s plot is part of his shtick, but after a number of go-arounds it’s enough. Just save the day already and let’s get on with it. Holmes’ bickering with Watson is the toughest material to get through. Their relationship comes across as a cheap and staged bromance, nothing more. Rachel McAdams lands in an ineffectual hole herself. Her costumes are tackier than those featured in a wholesale prom catalogue and her character a mere inadequate nuisance further complicating the story.
The one cast member that makes any impact is Strong. He’s dark, ominous and retains a degree of obscurity that leaves you wondering. His mystifying nature accentuates Holmes’ grandest fault, his lack of mystery. There isn’t one moment in the entire film that you doubt his abilities. Every instance from the ultimate solving of the case down to each mini-battle, you know Holmes will emerge victorious. Take away any insecurity and you wind up with an action film sans peril. Or, in other words, just a plain old dull movie.
Luckily the scenery, cinematography and score are entertaining enough to not make the entire film go by at a snail’s pace. When you’ve got a protagonist like Holmes who feels the need to dissect every hiccup of a situation, you’ve got to pay close attention to the details. Clearly great attention was paid to recreating Victorian London. There’s tons of eye candy to ogle on the streets and loads to be discovered in clutter-heavy locations like Holmes’ apartment and laboratory setups. Other details that appear to have been on the top of Ritchie’s list is Downey, Jr.’s buff bod. The slo-mo beat down shots are fantastic. If only Ritchie didn’t get carried away and feel the need to indulge in the parlor trick one too many times. The element entirely responsible for the film’s barely passable pace is the score. Hans Zimmer’s work deserves a better film. He provides Sherlock Holmes with a fresh but time-appropriate sound that never outshines the action taking place, yet makes it tolerable.