There are lots of gaps in my reading; so many books I’ve tried to read but not quite managed despite the best of intentions. For example, I’ve read very little Dickens and I could only manage a few pages of Huckleberry Finn before giving up. I have, however, read every Asterix book at least ten times each.

So I’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes novel. I’ve never bought one. I’ve never borrowed one from a library. The works of Arthur Conan Doyle and the exploits of his most famed creation are a mystery.

Despite this blind spot, I’m almost certain that the new Guy Ritchie movie doesn’t feature the same sort of hero that Doyle imagined in the fifty-six short stories and four novels I couldn’t be bothered reading. I can’t imagine any paragraphs dedicated to Holmes’ ripped bod or bulging biceps. I’m on equally sure footing to suggest that this latest outing isn’t aimed at purists.

For everyone else, though, it’s tremendous fun. Robert Downey Jr, whose umpteenth career resurgence continues unabated, is excellent as a Holmes who’s as much action hero as super slueth and is portrayed in a far edgier and more modern light. He’s flawed. He’s a bit sleazy. He’s petty. And while he’s at no time reigned in by the source material, he puts a sufficient stamp on proceedings to make the idea of a sequel or two rather appealing. Downey Jr has had his share of demons and he seems to transfer that kind of history into the role.

The somewhat contrived plot starts with Holmes and Watson in full Riggs and Murtaugh mode as they burst in to a black magic sacrifice to save the girl and slam the cuffs on our villain, Lord Blackstone, ably played by Ritchie veteran. Mark Strong. From there, we descend into occult hockum, large French bruisers and a hideous plot to rule the world. If it sounds a bit Jimmy Bond, well yeah, it is. It’s also part buddy movie with Jude Law in Watson’s shoes who, despite what Rachel McAdams brings to the party, is really Holmes’ main love interest in the film. Strangely, this is something that avid fans will approve of. From what I can gather, the books had Watson in a more important role rather than being a simple-minded device there to give Holmes an excuse to explain his magnificence.

Victorian London is brought vividly to life and full of characters who are able to be real and believable and completely over the top all at the same time, which has always been a strength for Ritchie. A little more unusual is the rather narrowed aspect ratio, which felt far more constricted than the 1.85:1 claimed on imdb, and as a result left some of the wider shots looking a bit squished and the action sequences too busy.

My only real criticism with the film is that the pitch, at times, was a bit confused. What we have at the heart of it all is Sherlock Holmes on steriods. He’s a bareknuckle fighter as well as deductive genius and as you might expect with such ingredients, there are laughs to be had along the way. However, at other times, we’re asked to take it all quite seriously, which occupies a rather awkward middle ground that probably wouldn’t have been too much of a problem had the laughs been more plentiful. The fact that the audience is given no chance whatsoever to solve the mystery isn’t really a problem … after all, we’re not Holmes. Not even this version.

And I got through all that without resorting to an elementary my dear blog reader remark. Personal triumph.

Advertisements