The Adventure of the Hero’s Rebirth.
I’ll admit I’m not a Sherlock Holmes aficionado. Matter of fact, of the lifetime of books I’ve devoured like a balrog (and sometimes like a Hello Kitty) I’ll confess I have probably never read a full Sherlock Holmes adventure. I say ‘probably’ because I seem to know the character intrinsically. Is that because – as Harlan Ellison claims – “there are only five literary creations known to every man, woman and child on the planet: Mickey Mouse, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Robin Hood and Superman”? (Though an over-broad comment, it elucidates the meme haunting humanity since it became humanity – the aspiration toward super heroes. And mice.) Consequently, I cannot comment on the veracity of this movie’s faithfulness to canon or its references and in-jokes. I can only take it at face value. Confession over. Let’s punch something.
Apparently, this SHERLOCK HOLMES is more faithful to the spirit of Conan Doyle’s original vision of the absent-minded, drug-addled, brawling consulting detective than the hundreds of watered-down TV and feature film versions (homogenizing the character for the infuriating lowest common denom, who like their heroes as dirtlessly pure as Superman with undies preferably on the outside for maximum visual sanitariness). Nonetheless, because we are so indoctrinated with the image of the Baker Street sleuth in deerstalker cap, pallid disposition and the tendency to weep at the sight of a woman’s thigh, it is a shock to our sternum when we actually meet Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) as an absent-minded, muscular, brawling, intellectual egotist.
This ain’t Basil Rathbone (Holmes in a clutch of 1940’s films), Peter Cushing (THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES 1959; come to think of it, I have read The Hound in many horror compendiums; huh, so I’m not as illiterate as some presidents I know), or even – laughably – Charlton Heston (who took a crack at Holmes in THE CRUCIFER OF BLOOD 1991). Make no mistake – Downey’s Sherlock Holmes is definitely a super hero. (No wonder he’s Iron Man.) He takes no shit, this Sherlock; a regular No-Shit Sherlock.
We meet Holmes as action man, taking down his opponents Seagal-style, complete with analytical calculations in voiceover on how it’s done: “Head cocked to the left, partial deafness in ear: first point of attack. Two: throat; paralyze vocal chords, stop scream. Three: got to be a heavy drinker, floating rib to the liver. Four: finally, drag in left leg, fist to patella. Summary prognosis: unconscious in ninety seconds, martial efficacy, quarter of an hour at best. Full faculty recovery: unlikely.”
Doctor Watson (Jude Law) is Holmes’s begrudging right-hand man, unwillingly pulled into crime cases against his better judgment. And then using that better judgment to help Holmes. In this film, we meet him betrothed to Mary (Kelly Reilly), whom Holmes tries to deconstruct and gets wine thrown in his face for his troubles.
Mark Strong is Lord Henry Blackwood, dabbling in the black arts and seemingly resurrected after his hanging, with intent to overthrow Parliament. Set in 1880’s London, the plot revolves around Blackwood’s ingenious magical plotting and Holmes deconstructing Blackwood’s methods as the scientific ploys they are.
And Rachel McAdams is lovely Irene Adler, a character spoken of in only five of the scores of Sherlock Holmes stories, yet, as Conan Doyle writes, “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.” Me too. Every time I see McAdams, I just want to conjugate my verb to arrive.
Gutshock action, high-browed humor, cerebral plotting, brain-teasing conundrums, unconsummated romance, Gladstone the dog incessantly victim to Holmes’s experiments, and Robert Downey Jr. toned like a jungle cat, absent-mindedly plucking his violin, almost lighting his pipe, never wearing a deerstalker hat, and doing an awful lot of Elizabethan mumbling.