Guy Ritchie, Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. have passed their tests: Ritchie finally proving that he can drive a Hollywood tentpole into place with lairy gusto; Law (as trusty sidekick Dr Watson) establishing that he /can/ transcend the smug screen presence of recent years; and Downey Jr., with the least elementary brief of all, upending the character’s longstanding stuffiness with contemporary verve while nailing the eccentric bent of Arthur Conan Doyle’s great British detective.
Even Downey Jr.’s posh accent holds firm (firmer than Law’s, who suffers lapses into sarf London), although he does spit out some dialogue in unintelligible, rapid-fire bursts. Sherlock’s highly evolved deductive faculties also get a good workout, though the Holmes hardcore may find the case-solving /slightly/ slapdash.
Working for the first time from a screenplay he didn’t write (five scripters fondled Holmes on his journey to the big screen, though with no obvious trauma), Ritchie is liberated to have brawling, blokey fun. He revels in a mucky Victorian London of gypsies, tramps and thieves, deploying his rambunctious speed-up/slow-down bag of tricks for bare-knuckle punch-ups and new-fangled set-pieces boosted by surprisingly smooth CGI.
No origin-story laboriousness to wade through, either. Sherlock plunges straight into his next case involving sexy grifter Irene (Rachel McAdams), diabolical occultist Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) and a secretive Mason-esque cult. Flaws? McAdams is excess baggage beyond jumpstarting the plot and providing hetero-cover (along with Kelly Reilly) for Holmes and Watson’s jaunty homoerotic squabbling, while the Tower Bridge climax is a mild letdown. But from its superb production design to Hans Zimmer’s punchy, gypsy-violin score, Sherlock Holmes can unashamedly count itself one of the more robust members of the 2009 blockbuster club, not as dazzling as Star Trek or Half-Blood Prince but streets ahead of Transformers 2 or Wolverine. With his sequel-coaxing, chop-socky reboot, Ritchie has buried that deerstalker cap for good. Or at least put it aside for his next hunting trip…
This Sherlock Holmes refuses to take himself seriously. Brilliant, because it allows to RDJ and Ritchie to let rip with their non-traditionalist revamp. Not so great because super-sleuthing loses out to bone-crunching. Either way, the brio is infectious.