When I first saw the trailer, I was not enthused. I had not been a fan of Guy Ritchie's directorial style and it looked like the film would be dismissing Holmes' mental prowess in an effort to turn him into an action hero. Thankfully, my deductions proved incorrect, as Ritchie created his best film to date and Robert Downey Jr. turned in yet again an impressive, franchise-launching performance.
Sherlock Holmes opens in London 1891 with Holmes and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) stopping what would have been the latest murder in a series of ritualistic killings. The culprit is Lord Henry Blackwood (Mark Strong), and before he is hanged for his crimes, he requests an audience with Holmes, informing him that death will not stop his plans of three more murders. Holmes pays Blackwood's boasts no mind until they start to become prophetic.
While Holmes investigates how Blackwood has overcome death, which has panicked the city, he has personal matters to attend to as well. Watson is moving out of their apartment on 221 Baker St. because he is due to be wed and wants to retire as Holmes' partner. Also, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), the only woman who has bested Holmes, a fact that makes her all the more attractive, returns to offer him a case at the behest of a mysterious stranger.
Based on an original story by Lionel Wigram and Michael Robert Johnson with a screenplay by Johnson and Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg, the script shows a good understanding of Conan Doyle's work. The character of Holmes is a believable person. He's not just a gifted intellect but suffers foibles as well.
Although more physical than other portrayals, Downey's Holmes is true to the source as the character was revealed to have had great potential as a boxer in The Sign of Four. Ritchie's use of slow motion is a great device to show Holmes conceiving of and calculating his actions.
Conversely, Law's Watson gets a bit of a short shrift. There are moments of characterization that come through, but he isn’t fully developed beyond fighting alongside Holmes. Hopefully, this will be rectified in future installments.
Sherlock Holmes is a rare treat, a smart blockbuster that cares about the small details as much as it does the large ones. Some of the action sequences border on being over the top, yet they always work in context. However, some of the CGI effects do suspend disbelief, but they aren't on screen too long.