I’m doing this in reverse order, by the way, and reviewing the most recent movie first. On Christmas Day, I saw Sherlock Holmes with a friend, like we have for the past three years now. In fact, when we started that shortly after I got out of cancer treatment, that was the start of my massive spree of hitting in the theaters. In any case, I’ve seen a lot of movies in the past two years, but I try not to get jaded and all snooty about it like the professional critics do. I tried to set aside any preconceived notions about what this film should be and just tried to be open to the experience.
It was, um, interesting.
I don’t really think of Sherlock Holmes as an action hero, but, that’s sure what Robert Downey Jr. and Guy Ritchie made him. And, you know what? It worked. Yeah, it really did. Now, I’m sure purists will get bent out of shape with Holmes boxing, or doing savate, or whatever it was supposed to be, but, really, it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to me.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The plot is typical Victorian era adventure stuff. The opening scene starts with an attempted occult murder, a sacrifice, that is thwarted by Holmes, played by Downey, and his faithful companion, Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law. The erstwhile occultist, and thwarted murderer, is Lord Blackwood, a nobleman and, quite obviously, the villain. And, yeah, if his name didn’t give it away, his theme music did. A little heavy handed, but, still all in the spirit of a good adventure.
Then, we quickly fast forward through Blackwood’s trial and right to the day before his execution. Watson is set to attend the execution as both one of his accusers and as a physician, to certify his death. However, it’s Holmes that Blackwood calls for before his execution so that he may deliver a prediction about his return from the grave and other, more dire, predictions about deaths that Holmes won’t be able to prevent.
Naturally, these things come to pass, in spite of Holmes and Watson’s best efforts to stop them. We also discover the person Holmes always referred to as “The Woman”, in the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ms. Irene Adler. In the movie, however, she’s a much more active and adventuresome woman, at least in the athletic sense, and played by Rachel McAdams. And, she’s quite troublesome to the pair of friends. At first, she seems to be working against the two men and, possibly, is in league with Blackwood. But, it’s not long before we discover that she’s actually working for someone else entirely and is only partially at cross-purposes to Holmes and Watson.
There is also at least one subplot here; Watson’s engagement.
He takes his fiance to meet Holmes for dinner, though he’s obviously been avoiding it. It seems he’s not all that keen on losing his best, and oldest, friend to marriage. The meeting is a disaster as Holmes only partially deduces her story and essentially accuses her of being a gold-digger out to marry a wealthy doctor. In fact, her previous fiance died and she is quite in love with Watson, who already was aware of all the things which Holmes correctly detected. And this will prove a key relationship as she is quite helpful to Watson several times during the ensuing adventure.
The prophecies that Blackwood made all start coming true, of course, much to Holmes and Watson’s growing discomfort. And, naturally, Holmes obsession with trying to prevent these events, as well as trying to track down Blackwood, leads the two men on a twisting journey through a slightly anachronistic Victorian, really almost Edwardian, London. Along the way, they run afoul of Ms. Adler and her mysterious employer until she and Holmes eventually agree to work together, though, she never really stops working for the other man.
Blackwood’s predictions, incidentally, all seem to be centered around some sort of occult plot to take over the world, naturally. Blackwood is trying to gain control over a quasi-Masonic occult secret society with roots in England, but branches as far as America. As is usual in the Sherlock Holmes stories, he uses cutting edge science to make what seems to be magical events occur under his control. The superstitious members of the society assume that he’s managed to achieve a higher level of occult competency and, therefore, out of fear, or greed, follow him. But, of course, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are there to fight for justice, etc., etc.
Now, I won’t ruin the movie by revealing more of the plot and I certainly won’t tell you how it ends, except to say that they do leave things open for a sequel.
Okay, let me make it clear here, I liked this movie, even though it does present a somewhat non-traditional Holmes. I didn’t mind the boxing or savate or whatever it was Holmes was doing. It made for fantastic action sequences. I didn’t even mind that Downey couldn’t seem to maintain a consistent English accent. Honestly, the action was so good and the rest of the acting was so good that the minor slip of accent was barely noticeable.
I was somewhat less thrilled about the heavy-handed occult references and the entire secret society subplot. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am a Freemason, so I see the attempts to mimic the Fraternity in these occult societies and, frankly, I know just how wrong they are. Also, frankly, the older I get the more hokey I find the average supernatural stories in the movies and such. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting more spiritual and therefore less superstitious, but it just seems less and less believable.
And, the one anachronism that was just too huge to ignore was a reference to radio waves. At the time the story takes place, if “radio waves” had even been discovered, which I’m almost certain they had not been, they certainly wouldn’t have been called radio waves. If anything, they might have been called Hertzian waves. But, Nikola Tesla, the first patent holder of a true, working radio device, had either not been born yet, or was less than ten years old, depending on precisely when the story in the movie was to have taken place. But, honestly, that was a relatively small thing and didn’t get in the way of my general enjoyment of the film at all.
I know this film will be eclipsed by Avatar, but I really enjoyed it and I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who likes action movies, or even Sherlock Holmes. It was thoroughly enjoyable and well worth seeing.
I think I may even look forward to seeing a sequel!