Children of Bond - Sherlock Holmes

In yet another screen outing for Conan Doyle's enduringly iconic creation, the famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) finds himself struggling to cope with the boredom of life without a major case to occupy his constantly buzzing mind now that he has put away the sinister Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) to be hanged after gatecrashing his subterranean black magic ceremony and handing him over to Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan). With no case worthy of his legendary intellect and his partner and friend Dr John Watson (Jude Law) due to presently move out of Baker Street and marry Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), Holmes finds himself sluggish, apathetic and uncertain about the future. Until that is the mysterious and darkly magical Lord Blackwood warns Holmes in prison that more occult murders are on the way and then apparently rises from the grave after execution to continue the nefarious plans for his satanic cult. As if that wasn't enough, the Great Detective's slippery and devious old flame Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) from A Scandal in Bohemia has returned to London to look him up. The game is afoot once again...
A superior popcorn film from the previously hapless Guy Ritchie, Sherlock Holmes fizzles with energy and period fun right from the opening sequence featuring horse-drawn carriages thundering down the dark cobbled streets of London before a muttering Holmes rattles down an elaborate circular staircase to dusty catacombs to interrupt Blackwood's theatrical black arts sacrifice capers - a scene that reminds one of an old Hammer film. This is an enjoyably grubby and grimy but lavish Victorian world for Sherlock Holmes to inhabit, one that often owes more to Oliver Twist than Conan Doyle and much more like that ho-hum League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film should have been with its misty backdrop of a London undergoing a painful and noisy rebirth fit for a coming new industrial age. Despite all the action and the bareknuckle boxing sequences, Holmes is mercifully not turned into a complete action lunk, with more pleasant if implausible elements of a sort of Victorian Jackie Chan drawing inspiration from Chaplin and Buster Keaton. One or two martial arts flourishes are rather daft but then this is a comic book twist on Holmes that shouldn't be taken too seriously by Sherlockians.
Away from the pratfalls and fights, Robert Downey Jr portrays Holmes as a quirky bohemian social misfit and maladjusted oddball eccentric who just happens to have one of the most brilliant minds in the world once it focuses itself on a suitably challenging mystery. "Never theorise before you have data," says Holmes. "Invariably, you end up twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." Obviously, the Sherlock Holmes of the books and stories wasn't described as rather shortish and thickset with a Dudley Moore haircut and cage fighting abilities but the actor is so much fun any quibbles about lack of faithfulness to Conan Doyle melt away as you become caught up in what is a very entertaining film. Initial doubts about the casting evaporate as Holmes is pressed into action again and slowly but surely turns into the famed genius always several steps ahead of everybody else.
When we first travel to Baker Street, Downey Jr looks like a bedraggled and threadbare Jason King, a man who can barely stand daylight as he lurches around in a moth eaten gown, his famous rooms like a dilapidated, over crowded hallway, stressing the mental insomnia of the character, a man who is constantly refining theories, performing experiments, drugging the dog and shooting bullets at the wall. "Have I ever complained about you practicing the violin at three in the morning," barks Watson. "Or your mess, your general lack of hygiene, your experiments on my dog, or the fact that you steal my clothes?" The grubbiness factor to Holmes here is contrary to Conan Doyle - this Holmes looks like a strung out pop star at times - and you do wish Downey Jr would shave at least once in the film but Jude Law makes an excellent Watson who is just as brave and determined as Holmes and has good comic chemistry and banter with Downey Jr. This is a more sarcastic and modern twist on Watson and even though you might not quite be able to imagine this man writing the Sherlock Holmes adventures most of us have read, you can believe that he's a stout soldier and good friend to have around in a scrape or two.

Sherlock Holmes is like an old James Bond film with a decent villain who has a masterplan up his sleeve, numerous inventive cliffhanger situations, plentiful humour, and even a Bond style henchman - a French Goliath called Dredger amusingly played by Robert Maillet. His subtitled exchanges with Holmes are a nice touch. "Un instant s'il vous plaît," says Holmes in the middle of a chaotic fight sequence. Mark Strong's Lord Blackwood isn't the most developed villain in the the world but he has a strong presence with his calm demeanour, Nazi style trenchcoat and occult themed murders and his main objective raises the stakes for our heroes and makes the mystery more fun. Rachel McAdams is so-so as Irene Adler and perhaps not quite as sassy and sharp in her performance as the character was meant to be. Eddie Marsan as Lestrade was a nice addition though and he has some good sarcastic exchanges and moments with Downey Jr's Holmes. The film uses a lot of flashbacks to explain plot developments and the labyrinth case under investigation and while this flirts with being too convenient a device at times it does work relatively well with Holmes' deductive flourishes revealed such as a masked magician reveals the secrets of famous magic tricks.
A great flashback sequence shows us how Holmes trailed Irene Adler from Baker Street to her carriage without being detected as Downey Jr snatches and munches cakes from stalls and builds up a disguise from odds and ends as he shadows her - even if he does look alarmingly like Inspector Clouseau in disguise! The action, which includes a shipyard brawl, shenanigans in Parliament and a fight on top of an under-construction Tower Bridge, is all fun and driven by the jaunty and enjoyable music which is reminiscent of the alternately upbeat and maudlin scores they would give early silent films. There is a vague mish-mash of styles and elements going on here - the film slips slightly into From Hell territory when a spaced out Holmes shuts himself away to ruminate in solitary fashion over occult spell books - but the end result is certainly a great deal of fun. Sherlockians will find much to nitpick over but those unfussed by the film's relation to the source material should find Sherlock Holmes a highly entertaining and amusing way to spend a couple of hours.
- Jake

c 2016 Alternative 007

james bond alpine