Sherlock Holmes (2009 Warner Bros. Dir. Guy Ritchie)
Let’s have first things first and give the standard disclaimer. I’m not a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie only has about 50% success with me. I don’t like the leaps of logic Holmes makes, there are a myriad of explanations for most of the evidence he hangs things on and he could often be wrong. The fact that he is never even slightly mistaken always annoyed me when I read the stories. However, that’s got nothing to do with this movie, which I actually liked quite a bit.
Yes, I’m sure you’re in pain, but consider my problems for a moment.
I was attracted to the idea of Holmes, but there were things that bugged me mightily as well. Instead, I got hooked on a man who is supposed to be his son… if you believe some theories, which I don’t because Holmes is gay. Obviously! Holmes and Watson slash has to be the easiest thing in the world to write since Holmes is so obviously bent and Watson is clearly a hot-blooded bisexual. I don’t care what Andrea Plunket says. Holmes is as queer as a three-dollar bill, as gay as spring time and is as homo as Vitamin D milk. He plays for the other side, his shoes never touch the ground, he’s a member of the fabulous class… I’m saying Sherlock Holmes likes it in the butt, and for that reason, he can’t be Nero Wolfe’s father. Is that clear enough? Just because Wofle may also be gay (I’m never quite sure) doesn’t mean that the two are related. Okay? Good. Now, where was I? Ah yes, the 2009 movie!
The Pearl has a description of something called “Two Girls, One Cup” in it.
Okay, enough of the gags let’s actually talk about the movie shall we? I’m going to start with an above the fold statement (despite the fact that we’re well below the fold at this point. I liked it. I found it to be a much closer to the Holmes and Watson I read about in the books that I have read. As I said in the above paragraph, I’ve only sort of liked the Guy Ritchie films I’d seen up until this point. I’ve not seen all his movies, but the ones I have seen I thought were just all right, nothing special. I thought his stuff was okay, but there was something missing. I’m not sure if it’s the money, his skill raising, if he’s coming into his own or if it’s just the phrase “Starring Robert Downey Jr.” that did something here. I’ll admit that Downey is quickly becoming one of those actors that can interest me in a movie just by being in it. Actors aren’t usually a draw for me, but he’s such an excellent screen presence. Whatever it is, possibly a combination of things, this movie works excellently. As is usual with a movie I like, I’m not going to go through a run down of the movie, but rather I’ll be discussing my thoughts and feelings in a more general way.
What has been seen cannot be unseen.
Let’s start with one of the first things you notice when the movie starts, the music is excellent. The main theme is relatively simplistic enough, while still allowing for a great deal of complexity. It balances the idea people have of what sort of music they’d hear on a Victorian street, while still having enough grandeur saved up to actually carry a movie with the sort of scope this picture is going to have. Was it quite interesting enough to buy the soundtrack? Well I haven’t yet, but I like it. However, the last album I bought was Ice Cream Castle, so make of that what you will. It is a great score though, and is likely well worth listening to on its own. Hans Zimmer usually does a good job, but I think he excelled himself this time. This is a lovely, unusual, score which gives a sense of individuality.
Don’t you wish your sidekick was hot like me?
Let’s touch on the second thing you notice in the movie, and the slightly more controversial note. The movie is majorly actioned-up when compared to other iterations of the character. This was something a lot of people worried about before the movie actually opened. I think a major reason was that a lot of people only remember Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett in the role. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with those two actors, they don’t exactly scream “Kung-Fu Action Hero” do they? Well, that’s an interesting point actually. The Holmes stories had a good bit of fist pounding, gun fighting and other such adventure staples. How much is in the actual stories is something I’ll leave to people to discuss in the comments. I’ve been told that while Holmes being a fencer and fist fighter are talked about on a semi-regular basis, you rarely, if ever actually see him doing those things in the stories. I haven’t read enough of them to know, but in a way it doesn’t matter. I welcome the extra action scenes because I like a good action scene. There are few things I enjoy like a good, well-executed fight scene. The only thing I like better than a good hand-to-hand fight is a car chase, but this has no car chases so we’ll leave that for now. The fights are well executed by the way, without the shaky-cam stuff that has become all the rage and only really worked in the Bourne movies. One thing I really liked was the samurai-movie-like way that Holmes plans and visualizes the fight in his head before acting, or gives us the explanation of what he just did after. The visualization process was pretty neat and helped me immensely in seeing how the mentality worked.
Don’t you wish your detective was a freak like me?
Holmes is probably a depressive or at least he seems to be in this movie. He’s shown to decline into funks whenever there isn’t a case worthy of his attentions. Holmes also seems to be one of those people who simply cannot stop observing things. There are several instances where we’re shown him looking around and catching the small details that are going on around him. He also seems to have a serious amount of social anxiety, manifesting itself in his retreating from most of humanity on a regular basis. There is an interesting way of presenting Holmes’ deductions, which make them seem much less like leaps of logic. Instead of him simply explaining, we’re shown a flashback of the action while the specific details are picked out for us. This lends a certain verisimilitude to those deductions and helps them seem far less like a shot in the dark and more like en educated best guess. To be perfectly honest, I don’t actually get much of a gay vibe off this version of Holmes. I know a lot of people do, but what I get is a man who is dependant on his buddy, who is no longer willing or possibly able to cope with having to prop him up. Holmes isn’t a properly functioning human being here. Rather he’s a machine that can only perform a few vital tasks. When it comes to anything else, he’s almost completely helpless. That is why he has the relationship with Watson that he does, although I will admit it would take just a nudge to push them into the place where stories get slashy.
I present Badass #1 and Badass #2
Since we’ve discussed Holmes, let us now look into Doctor Watson. While this was presented as a new way to look at Holmes, it’s Watson that gets the most reworked and for the better. Far too often, Watson is played either as a complete buffoon or at best like someone who has been sent to watch in amazement while Holmes performs magic. In truth, Watson was a military man, and highly capable in his own right. He’s really much more like Archie Goodwin than Capt. Hastings*. Watson is more like Holmes’ right hand and chief minder rather than a stooge to stand around being amazed. Yes, Holmes is normally a step or three ahead of Watson, but one of the conceits of the stories is that Holmes is a dozen steps ahead of everyone. Being only three ahead of Watson means Watson is at least eight steps ahead himself. That’s how he’s played her, as someone who could make a perfectly good living being a professional badass on his own, but he wants to be a quiet doctor. As a result, he always having to be drawn into the adventure by Holmes. Watson seems to know it too, he’s reluctant, but he really want to be in the story. If it weren’t for Holmes, Watson wouldn’t have any kind of fun or frustration. He’d also have no money as he has a bit of a gambling problem that Holmes protects him from by holding his money for him. Several other people, far more educated in Holmes than I, have commented on this being the best Watson they have yet seen.
Lord and Lady Pokingham seem to be at it again.
Should we discuss Irene Adler? Several I know were displeased with Adler being a thief in this movie, but as I’d never read the one book she appeared in, it didn’t bother me. She could have been anyone, and in some ways she was if people who talked about the character are to be believed. The problem with the character is she isn’t anywhere near as well written as the two main characters. She’s not detrimental, but she isn’t anything like as instrumental to the plot as she should be. How about Watson’s girlfriend Mary? Well, she’s good enough, but she’s not on screen very often. Sadly, the women are treated as badly here as they are in most big movies. Lestrade isn’t on screen all that often, and when he is he fills the typical role of a comic foil. I’m pretty sure Lestrade is more capable in the books, but we’ve already improved Watson. One step at a time I suppose. There are other characters, but besides the villains, they aren’t terribly important. The villains are fairly interesting, since you do get to see part of their plan playing out during the movie. I suppose you don’t need too many other characters though, with Holmes and Watson doing so well as a magnificent double act.
Mmmm, a nice warm bath.
The mystery is quite good, with what might or might not be a supernatural twist. The actual nature or supernature is kept as part of the mystery until the end. While Holmes clearly doesn’t believe, it’s just as clear that several of the people he works for and with do believe in the supernatural aspects of the story. I’m not reveling anything by saying a large part the mystery is fairly dependant on the ‘Is It or Isn’t It’ aspect of the supernatural question. There are several times when it looks like the question is going to be answered one way or another, as several misleading steps are taken along the way. It’s not until the very end that we get the final and definitive answer. We also get the requisite shadowy introduction of Moriarty, who always shows up despite the fact that he’s only in two stories and is only mentioned a handful of times. He does have a habit of having his importance overstated, while by contrast we almost never get to see Arnold Zeck make an appearance. That’s hardly important though, since we’re talking about Holmes and not Wofle.
I can hear that Lord and Lady Pokingham are still at it.
As I said at the start, I like this movie. I didn’t find it particularly steam punk, even though I know some other people did. This is much more how I had envisioned Holmes in the few stories I had read. I had thought him to be a much more rough and tumble sort of character than he was presented in the movies and TV shows that I had seen. I certainly knew he’d never stoop to wearing a deerstalker to search the streets of London, as the deerstalker is a country hat. I’m not sure everyone will enjoy this movie, but I enjoyed it and I look forward to the sequel if they decide to make one. I believe they have tentatively decided, but I try not say a movie in on the way until I see a trailer or something.
Just one nicely composed prop shot. Just for me.
61 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.