Director Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey, Jr. change Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic creation, Sherlock Holmes, from an intellectual hero who dabs in martial arts, to primarily a fighter who also detects in this intricate tale. Downey, playing the cerebral Holmes as a cleanliness-impaired action hero, and Jude Law, as Holmes’ good friend and biographer Dr. Watson, make one yearn fondly for Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.
Actually, Law is probably closer to Doyle’s Dr. Watson than was the bumbling character created by Bruce. But, just as Sean Connery was a far cry from the James Bond created by Ian Fleming (I read all the books before the film “Dr. No” came out 1962 and had always pictured Bond more like the picture of Fleming on all the paperbacks, a thin guy, nothing like the husky Connery), Bruce’s characterization of Watson was so popular with the general public who saw the films, he became the accepted persona of Dr. Watson and what Doyle actually created was lost in the shuffle.
But what really turned me off in this film is seeing Holmes fighting and beating up bad guys. While Doyle’s Sherlock may have never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” (nor does Downey’s, more’s the pity) he still vanquished the bad guys much more by outthinking them than by outfighting them. I also don’t think that Doyle would want him presented as an unshaven, scruffy lout, like Downey’s Holmes. Downey’s is not the Sherlock I am used to seeing, and it’s not the one I want to see, even if Ritchie and Downey turn the fights into intellectual battles with Sherlock figuring out in his mind how each blow is to be struck, mapping out the strategy in his mind’s eye, then going ahead and doing it.
This story, about a mad Lord responsible for lots of deaths, who can apparently come back from the dead, is so convoluted it just never got me into the swing of things. Maybe if it had been about two guys named Sam Hanover and Dr. Wilson instead of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson I might have been more attuned to it. But the jarring counter-characterization of a beloved figure like Sherlock Holmes, whose persona was defined by Rathbone in 14 films and innumerable radio shows, overwhelmed the plot, which also involves Rachel McAdams as a mysterious femme fatale. Although the plot might be pretty good. I just kept saying to myself, “This guy is not Sherlock Holmes,” and the re-imaging was an impenetrable impediment that prevented me from enjoying the film. However, I was appalled by Connery as James Bond initially. Now, of course, I think nobody comes close to measuring up to Sean. Maybe I’ll feel the same way about Downey after a couple of inevitable sequels…but I doubt it.