As you can tell, I put off seeing this movie for a long time. I am a big fan of Robert Downey Jr. I’m also a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, having read every Holmes story I could get my hands on in grade school before moving on to Hitchcock and Agatha Christie. I am not a fan of attempts to “modernize” classic works to make them more palatable to an audience that doesn’t have time for that reading nonsense. Which is what I expected this film to be, especially since many reviews insisted this was a revisionist Holmes that took great liberties with the character. That isn’t the film I found myself watching.
I mean, yes, it takes liberties with the timeline, but I can appreciate why they did it. Rather than just filming the same famous Holmes stories that have been filmed a thousand times over, the movie is a mash up of a handful of Holmes stories and set smack in the middle of an era during which Holmes is traditionally dead, because he’s already fought Moriarty, Irene Adler has been reduced to “the Woman” and Watson has already been married. But I’m okay with that. Because they captured something much more important to me – they captured the essence of Holmes, not as he has become in urban legend, formed by a thousand movies of a neat and business like Holmes in a deer hunter hat, but the Holmes (and Watson for that matter) from the original stories. This is a Holmes that can beat the tar out of his adversaries as well as best them with his astounding intellect. This is a Holmes that is more than a little… eccentric, and has some chemical dependency issues to boot. This is a Watson that can hold his own with Holmes, instead of being the bumbling side kick he has become in most recent incarnations. This is the Holmes I remember. (Heck, most of the things in the movie deemed most outlandish were taking directly from Holmes stories, from Holmes shooting up a “VR” in a wall to him training bees with a violin to his little underground boxing match. Holmes was a martial artist before it was cool for action heroes to be martial artists. This was the guy they based Batman on!)
And befittingly so. One of the reasons I think Steampunk and the Neo-Victorian movement have been so popular is that Victorian characters are fun. They were the superheroes of their day. This was the era of mad geniuses – when men of keen intellect and odd habits were called “eccentric” rather than being labeled “ADD” or “Manic Depressive” and given a bunch of prozac before they could hurt themselves. We’re talking about an era where cocaine was legal and even real life geniuses were pretty much insane (Go read about Nikola Tesla sometime. That man was like a comic book villain of epic proportions).
So, yes… it messes with the timeline to tell an original story and it reintroduces all those “messy” details from the Sherlock Holmes stories like that he knew Bartitsu, or that he sometimes traded fisticuffs with his adversaries and always won, or that he had a drug… issue. But then maybe if more people spent time reading Sherlock Holmes stories than just watching stuff British movies with their safe, tall, skinny, “refined” Holmes, they’d know that.
Anyhow, enjoyed the movie quite a bit, laughed out loud in parts (not surprisingly, most of the best dialogue is actually lifted directly from the Holmes stories), and am looking forward the sequel coming out in a few months time.