Robert Downey Jr. dives into yet another iconic role as the title character in Sherlock Holmes, director Guy Ritchie's inventive, sometimes exhilarating take on the classic sleuth.
While the famous detective still puffs on his pipe, he's now a badass street fighter with major self-esteem issues and a dark sense of humor. He's also a really lousy roommate.
Joining Downey Jr. as Watson—in what turns out to be his best role in quite a while—is former megastar-on-the-rise Jude Law. The two prove to be a winning combination; although the mystery sometimes feels more Scooby-Doo than Arthur Conan Doyle, the action set pieces are so good that they overcome any scripting shortfalls.
The opening is a blast, with Holmes racing through the dark streets of London as he tries to prevent the sacrifice of a young lady at the hands of the evil Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong, speaking in very ominous tones). After a rather awesome fight scene—during which we see and hear Holmes plan every blow he will land on his nemesis before the action plays out exactly as he predicts—Blackwood is incarcerated and put to death by hanging.
In some ways, Blackwood is this film's Lord Voldemort. (Hey, they both have the same first name!) He's a potentially supernatural force that returns from the grave to wreak havoc on government types and terrorize the city streets. Holmes is determined to find out what in the heck is going on, but Watson's impending marriage becomes a more pressing matter. Holmes—not wanting to lose his roommate and brother in sleuthing—does his best to convince his partner that his lady might not be right for him. This sort of thing could be very mundane, but Downey and Law make it rather sweet and funny.
By the time the mystery had played out, I found myself more interested in the way Holmes hit people than his mystery-solving capabilities. He hits people impressively, which is intriguing, seeing as the guy used to just wear a funny hat and act all smart. The new Holmes has Rambo qualities to go with his inquisitive powers.
Downey, as he did with Tony Stark in Iron Man, gives his action hero an intriguing emotional core. As always, he has impeccable comic timing and an uncanny ability to capture accents. His British accent here puts other big Hollywood actors who attempted accents this year to shame. That's right, Matt Damon (Invictus) and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education)—Downey owns you in Accent Land!
Ritchie, a director who has largely been hit (Snatch) or miss (the awful Madonna vehicle Swept Away), delivers his most confident bit of filmmaking to date. It doesn't hurt that he has one of the best damn actors in the business at his disposal. Helping things along are astoundingly good art direction and cinematography, and an excellent score from Hans Zimmer.
Strong delivers ample menace as Blackwood, although he feels a bit like villains we've seen many times before. If the movie has a weak link, it's the normally reliable Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, Holmes' mysterious love interest; McAdams seems a little overmatched this time out. Law brings a nice amount of mischief and grouchiness to Watson, making him much more than an average sidekick.
The greatest reasons to see Sherlock Holmes are Downey and his wonderful interplay with Law. While the story isn't quite up to the strength of its performers, you probably won't care, because the performers are wonderful. I left Sherlock Holmes more than happy with the prospect of sequels.