Massawyrm loves Guy Ritchie's SHERLOCK HOLMES...until the point it becomes Jerry Bruckheimer's SHERLOCK HOLMES
Published at: Dec. 22, 2009, 11:06 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
SHERLOCK HOLMES is very much a film I wanted to fall in love with. And for the first two acts of it, I very much was. Stylish, edgy and a fresh take on one of our oldest and most revered pulp heroes, this is a film that takes some great chances that really pay off. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, it ceases to be Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES and becomes Jerry Bruckheimer’s. Notions of character and all sense of being a detective story go out the window as shit starts blowing up, Holmes finds himself in fistfights with villains and someone has to, I shit you not, diffuse a Victorian era weapon of mass destruction. No, this isn’t your father’s Sherlock Holmes. It’s your 13 year old nephew’s.
And it’s a shame, because everything up until that point is masterful. Robert Downey Jr. gives a brilliantly twisted performance as the godfather of all detectives. We’ve seen him played as the cloistered, stick up his ass genius, we’ve seen him played as a bit of the sarcastic curmudgeon, we’ve even seen him played as a drunken idiot (by Michael Caine no less). But what we’ve never seen is him played as the very damaged genius, living shuttered up in his house because he has trouble relating to the world; what we’ve never seen is a Holmes whose brilliance is driven by a single minded obsession with minor details to the point of becoming socially unacceptable. But that’s how Downey plays him here. And it fits the canon. Given this spin it becomes easy to re-examine the text, add in Ritchie’s wonderful layer of Victorian filth and see a slightly cracked Holmes buried on Doyle’s works.
Downey Jr. is phenomenal, once again turning in a layered, nuanced and devilishly hilarious performance that only further serves to illustrate that his second life in Hollywood is by far his best. Opposite him and giving his best turn in years is Jude Law, playing a constantly fed up Doctor Watson who is the glue that keeps Holmes together. If you end up loving this movie as several of my friends have, you will do so over watching Law and Downey play off of each other with some of the very best back and forth in years. Together they are an incredible pair, a Holmes and Watson I want to watch time and again in a number of thrilling adventures.
I just want them to end up on better adventures than this.
The first two acts, while not textually accurate for a Holmes story, are different in all the right ways, making what has become a tired, nearly done to death genre into something delightfully inventive. While hardcore fans might quibble about details, the soul of Holmes remains intact. But as the mystery of a sorcerous cultist unravels before our eyes, so too does the stitching holding together the story. It becomes an action film. And rather than the classic mystery-solving finale, Holmes and company find themselves in a race against time akin to very other mainstream action film you’ve ever seen. Created by a spin of the plot wheel and written by the same monotonous software found on almost every Bruckheimer computer, this fails to offer any surprises once the villain as been unmasked. Explosions rip through the city, Holmes and Watson are pitted in a race against a ticking clock and the whole city – nay, all of England - depends upon the duo to unmask the culprit and save the day.
In the end, this isn’t a Sherlock Holmes story. It’s a cape and cowl away from being a Batman story.
And it’s not a bad Batman story I guess. My only real complaints are with the way the film disintegrates in its final moments, refusing to allow me to have any real emotional investment in what is going on. Everything leading up to that point is fantastic, if not truly great. I was even on board with Rachel McAdams, the one sticking point in the film that folks seem to be having trouble with. I thought she was solid enough with the material she was given, but that her character was more a McGuffin than anything else. She’s there to get Holmes from place to place in the story while occasionally helping to develop his character while doing it, and little else.
Despite all the great set pieces, wonderful performances and stylish camerawork, Ritchie’s Holmes just flies off the rails just before finishing out. A great story works towards a very specific ending. That’s what was so great about Doyle’s Holmes stories. This feels like someone had a great idea for a Holmes story, and figured they’d find an ending later. In the end they just pasted on the one you’ve seen a couple dozen times. There is nothing you won’t recognize about the final moments of this film, right down to the pacing and dialog. It’s a pastiche of mediocre action film endings ruining an altogether near perfect film.
I want this to do well. I want this to be successful. I want to see Downey and Law back together again in a mystery story with a real honest to god climax that I care about. Whether that happens remains to be seen. Beer and Pretzel audiences will probably love this for its accessibility, so that might just happen. But I have no immediate urge to revisit this story again.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.