this holiday season has been full of perpetually reincarnated fictional british heroes: on christmas day we got to see our favorite time lord, as well as shakespeare's angst-plagued danish prince hamlet, as portrayed by doctor who star david tennant in the film version of gregory doran's stratford-to-west-end production of the namesake play. and yesterday i caught the latest incarnation of the world's greatest detective, sherlock holmes, starring robert downey jr. as holmes and jude law as his faithful companion doctor john watson.
this guy ritchie-directed extravaganza is handsome but hardly cerebral (directly the opposite of how i imagine holmes to be), although there are a lot of great lines in a script also plagued by horribly cliched ones. ("solve this case -- whatever it takes!" ugh.) it is mainly a bunch of fight scenes and big ol' set-pieces strung together by an amped-up mystery and a few half-hearted attempts to show us holmes's deductive reasoning in action (which are mercifully soon abandoned for more traditional demonstrations of same). at least three people leap out of windows in this movie. one of them is on fire. that's pretty much all you need to know.
the many references to watson as "the doctor" here led to silly associations in my head. at one point i even poked JD and asked her how come the doctor couldn't just use his sonic screwdriver to get them out of the situation. RDJ was pretty good as holmes (despite, apparently, some objections to an amurican playing the part; isn't that why it's called acting?). but in some ways this movie was, for me, all about watson.
i'm not especially enamored of RDJ or JL as hunks of manflesh, but probably the best thing about sherlock holmes is how wonderfully, spiffily tweedy watson is with his walking stick and amazing clothes that seem to never get dirty, even in grubby ol' victorian england. his grey flannel/magenta pinstripe suit (seen above) is the best of several natty ensembles that kept my eyes riveted, as he does indeed wear them well. man-in-a-suit alert!
the second best thing about sherlock holmes is the original music, by prolific veteran hans zimmer. much of it is this zesty yet off-kilter fiddle-y, banjo-y, piano-y stuff that provides a much-needed organic element in the mix of relentless fisticuffs, fiery explosions, elaborate chases, and wildly evil ambitions.
i recently started reading sir arthur conan doyle's original holmes books, which i somehow never got around to as a kid. having inherited my techie sister's cast-off ipod touch, i downloaded a bunch of free holmes for my kindle app and started from the beginning, after reading a couple of short stories from later in the run. i've only just started the hound of the baskervilles (the third of the four early novels), but i've read enough to know that the movie's writers pretty much frankensteined different parts of doyle's tales and changed details at will. (one example: in the movie, holmes has never before met watson's fiancee, mary. but the whole second novel, the sign of the four, revolves around a case mary brings to holmes, which is how watson meets her in the first place.)
as a result, we have a very au courant emphasis on the bromantic aspect of holmes and watson's relationship, with watson sniping about how messy holmes is and how he keeps borrowing watson's clothes without asking, fussing over how holmes always forgets his revolver, and protesting how holmes uses the dog to try out his latest sleeping potions. ("he doesn't mind," holmes insists, as the plump bulldog snores in the corner.) holmes is still the savvy deductive-reasoning dude and master of disguise, but his ass-kicker quotient is pumped way up. (and his drug-use quotient is shrunken to just barely mentioned.) he also acts very much like an adolescent boy over watson's impending nuptials, using cheap tricks and rudeness to try to split them up. which may all be in the original mix, idk.
anyway. the main story involves a chap named lord blackwood (the amazing mark strong, who has been and will be in many things, but who i especially loved in our friends in the north). he's an apparent master of the dark magical arts who begins terrorizing london with his scary evil ways and has a BIG PLAN TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD. also hanging around is irene adler (rachel mcadams, who is just ok), a criminal american woman who has a History with holmes both here and in the written stories. a more mysterious figure from the holmes canon lurks in the background.
the problem right now with BIG PLANS TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD is that every fuckin' genre movie has them. i know warner bros. can't make tons of cash if they don't inject some epic-ness and over-the-top action into a tale involving a guy who mostly uses his mind to defeat bad guys, but they could have still had lots of fight scenes and stunts and set-pieces with a story that had a little less at stake than some mofo who wants to bend the entire world to his will mwahaha. in other words, bored now.
ah, but i mostly enjoyed the flick, although sometimes i laughed at it and not with it. it is way too long at two and a quarter hours, and the uneven pacing doesn't help. the thing takes off at full speed, which yanks you right in, but then it drags and revs up again in cycles that just make you wish they'd get it over with already. and, while i do love me some kicky-fighty, sherlock holmes has so many extended choreographed battles that, by the time we got to the big climactic numbers, i felt like i'd seen it all before.
oh, well. it is worth seeing for the escapism of it all. the man on fire, btw, is not the only cool pyrotechnic thing. so if you, like me, are a firebug who's crazy about balletic fistfights and well-dressed men, by all means go see it. but do get yourself some popcorn on the way in.