I Refuse to Make an “Elementary” Joke in This Post

I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to do it, but this weekend I went and saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie.

I’m still trying to decide if I liked it.

Now, as with many a geek out there, I’m a big Holmes fan. And, like every fan of anything anywhere, I have very particular ideas about the object of my fannish devotion. There is a right way to do it, and a wrong way to do it. The right way, of course, is any way that makes me go, “Yeah! I liked that!” The wrong way is any way that doesn’t. Of course, as with most fans, this comes down to matching my vision and understanding of, in this case, Sherlock Holmes. If it matches what I thing Holmes is closely enough, I like it, and I say, “Man, he just gets Holmes!” If it doesn’t match it, I say, “Man, he just doesn’t get Holmes!”

What I’m trying to say is that, while I am as set in my fannish ways as any fan out there, I also recognize that I don’t own the idea of Sherlock Holmes, and that my view of what Holmes is is purely subjective and personal.

This is important, because Guy Ritchie seems to have a very different idea of what Sherlock Holmes is than I do, and I’m trying to reconcile what he did with the character and world on the screen with what it the character and world mean to me.

Baseline on my Holmes fixation: I think that Jeremy Brett gave us the best portrayal of Sherlock Holmes ever. He captured innate cynicism, self-involvement, and arrogance that I think define the character: Holmes is trapped in his own head a lot of the time, looking for the next challenge, and he finds most people so mundane and slow that he can’t help but feel smugly superior to them, and view them with, if not contempt, then at least disdain. Balanced with this is a real core of compassion and thirst for justice – the better angels of his nature that struggle with the demons of his genius. Brett, in my opinion, brought that wonderful dichotomy home. As does Laurie R. King in her Mary Russel novels. Normally, I hate that sort of thing – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes Sherlock Holmes. No one else. But King gives us a great vision of Holmes in his later years, somewhat mellowed, more human than Doyle’s version, without losing anything essential.

So. That’s where I’m coming from as I go in to watch the movie.

I’m going to go through my impressions in a second, but first I want to put in a

Spoiler Warning!

Not big ones, and nothing that most Holmes fans won’t see coming a mile off, but just to be safe. I’m going to talk about what happens in the movie. If you don’t want to know, don’t read the bullet list below.

  • I like Robert Downey, Jr. I always have. And in the past few years, he’s given me more and more reason to like him. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, for example, or his brilliant portrayal of Tony Stark in Iron Man. He does a good job here, as well, though the character is less goofy and light than he usually does. He gives us a dark, selfish Holmes that still has a core of humanity hidden inside him, frustrated by the rest of the world.
  • I’m not as big a fan of Jude Law, though I certainly don’t hate him. And he delivers big time in this movie, giving us a great Dr. Watson. See, mostly the Watsons in Holmes movies are bland, stupid, and just there to give Holmes someone to explain things to. After all, that’s the role Watson filled in the stories: he was there so that there was someone slightly stupider than the reader for Holmes to explain things to so that the story would make sense. But this movie, Watson is strong, and smart – smart enough that you can believe he’s a doctor – and has learned a lot of Holmes’s tricks. Indeed, he’s learned enough of them that he’s no longer impressed by them, and is instead mainly frustrated and bored with them. He’s got a brain, and a spine, and a heart. Good job, I say.
  • Irene Adler. Bah. Okay, I realize that, according to the Action Movie Formula(TM), the hero needs a charged romantic interest, and that the only woman from the stories that could possibly fill that role is Irene Adler, but I’m tired of her being dredged up to fill the role any time someone does a Holmes pastiche and needs a woman. Yes, she had a profound impact on the character, but she only appeared in one story, people! That said, Rachel McAdams does a decent job of portraying her, though the way she fluctuates between cunning adventuress and damsel in distress makes me wonder even more why they bothered.
  • Moriarty is another bone of contention I have with people doing Holmes stories. Again, the man appears in only one story – well, two if you count narrative flashbacks. Yes, his influence is profound, and yes, Holmes did spend months in his private, secret war against Moriarty, but none of that actually happens in the actual stories. The idea of Moriarty lurking in the background, playing his own game behind the scenes, as he is portrayed in this movie, makes me forgive them for using him… right up until I think about how blatant a set-up this is for a sequel.
  • Boy howdy, if you’re a fan of Victorian London Scenery Porn (and who isn’t?), you will get a nice fix from this movie. It’s beautiful.
  • I had some real trouble with the sorcerous idea behind the main plot of the movie, but that all got nicely wrapped up in strictly scientific terms. Kudos.
  • Holmes as a fighter works. He fights a few times in the stories, and he’s good at it, both because he’s made a scientific study of the martial arts, and because he’s smart. The way Guy Ritchie portrays that in the movie comes together nicely, with some great deductive observation coupled with an understanding of how to hurt people.
  • I still don’t know if I like the quick flashback or flashforward sequences they used to show Holmes thinking or reveal his previous preparations. They worked, but it felt a little like hand-holding.
  • I like what they did with Lestrade. It made me smile.

So, there it is. As I said, I’m not really sure how much I like the movie. It was fun, and the good parts seem to outweigh the bad, but I really dunno.

I’d say go see it, on balance of everything. But don’t set the bar too high.