I hadn’t seen this Victorian action movie in theaters, so I was glad to see the DVD come out only three months later. I knew there’d been lots of debate over whether this version was really Sherlock Holmes or not, and I wanted to see for myself.
The movie doesn’t play much on what Holmes has come to mean as a brand, but since it’s billed as a “bold reimagining”, fair enough. The Sherlock Holmes film is faithful to the basics of the characters — their close friendship, Holmes’ deadly boredom, Watson explaining the strange genius to other people — while recontextualizing them in a way that fits today’s imagination and enthusiasm.
The result is an entertaining movie featuring cute, charming guys with delicious accents who fight and throw wisecracks, in a setting with lots of atmosphere. Robert Downey Jr. is Holmes; Jude Law is Watson; Mark Strong is the demonic villain Lord Blackwood; and Rachel McAdams is the anachronistic but wonderful Irene Adler, the only woman who discomfits Holmes and the only person to outsmart him.
Downey’s performance is, as always, exceptional, supported by a great cast, stunning visuals, and outstanding special effects. He captures the torture that is other people when you’re preternaturally aware of everything around you. And how you can’t be part of their world.
There’s plenty to look at — such as bare-knuckled, bare-chested boxing — and the DVD will certainly come in handy for rewinding and rewatching. Some of Downey’s dialogue is so rapid that it took me more than one listen to follow it. (He’s not the only talky one; Blackwood monologues as well.) In contrast, the fights are easy because he tells you what he’s going to do, and precisely how much damage it will cause, before he does it. It’s a helpful way to get across the idea of just how fast his mind works and how analytic Holmes is when it comes to battle.
I liked this Holmes, a fighter, an inventor, brilliant, obnoxious. And Watson, a real person, a doctor sometimes annoyed with his too-clever friend (and obnoxious roommate, who borrows his clothes), instead of just a sidekick. It’s Holmes as man, not icon. The movie is a visual treat, a thriller with a steampunk flavor. It often made me laugh, it made me curious (about the mystery of Blackwood’s apparently Satanic return from the dead), and it kept me entertained.
The only extra is the 15-minute Revisited featurette, the usual behind-the-scenes piece, lots of fun. It makes me want to drag out my Annotated Sherlock Holmes for another read-through. The Blu-ray is reported to have the picture-in-picture “Maximum Movie Mode”, in which [director] Guy Ritchie talks to you about the film.
Also, those who purchase the Blu-ray as soon as it’s available on March 30 have a chance to join a Live Community Screening with Robert Downey, Jr. on April 1 at 9 PM Eastern. Downey will answer questions in real-time audio as everyone watches the movie together online. (The studio provided a DVD review copy.)
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