Sherlock Holmes delivers on what I think was missing from an awful lot of the fun, silly movies of 2009—actual fun. This summer I sat through an awful lot of blockbuster spectacles that turned out to be simply boring. Think Wolverine or Transformers 2. Robert Downer, Jr and Jude Law are consistently charming and funny as Holmes and Watson, Guy Ritchie’s speed-up/slow-down gimmicks are applied sufficiently sparingly to be interesting, and the story keeps trudging along. Crucially when they get to plot points that don’t make sense (how on earth is the bad guy going to conquer the United States?) the holes are skipped over breezily rather than made all the more glaring by additional tedious exposition that fails to resolve the problem.
Some people feel that this action-oriented version of Holmes is untrue to the original. I think this is wrong. The print Holmes is clearly described as an expert singlestick fighter and accomplished barenuckle boxer. He gets into fisticuffs and always wins. Hand-to-hand combat is never the feature of Conan Doyle’s stories because it wouldn’t be interesting to read a detailed account of beating a guy up with a walking stick. But bringing more emphasis to this kind of thing is exactly what a screen adaptation of a well-known print character should be for—elements of the character that are de-emphasized by the print medium are rightly brought into sharper focus for a movei.