Writer Lionel Wigram meant for the Sherlock Holmes movie to deviate from Doyle's writings, and it does; but this is not why I disdain the film. I disdain it because it is a typical acerebral, modern Hollywood superhero movie.
Elementary Plot, My dear Watson
Lionel Wigram is a comic book writer whose script is based on his comic book understanding of Holmes. Wigram says he found an allusion to Holmes's boxing past and an instance of Holmes using a martial art in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories--so Wigram decided to focus virtually his entire script on kung-fu action.
Snatch 2 ?
When every scene is an action scene, there is no noticeable action scene. As I sat in the theater, I grew weary of all the sensationalized Kung-Pow action, the near escapes, and the slow-motion explosions. Maybe all that slow-motion was what made the movie seem so long. Four monotonously long fighting scenes are spliced by tense scenes of conflict--usually involving Holmes arguing with Watson or with some minor character. When he's not arguing he's hurrying off to some place. Of course, as is typical in a Guy Ritchie film, there abound annoying swooshing sounds and disorienting camera work which together are tasked with depicting transitions into flashbacks, dreams, and the like.
In several fight scenes, Holmes does this ridiculous Mortal Combatesque combo-move in which he envisions a list of sequentially-planned jujitsu moves that he will do on his opponent--in slow motion. He then uses his predetermined combo-move to destroy his foe in real-time. For any nerdedly stricken fan of Pokémon, World of Warcraft, Zelda, Dungeons & Dragons, Final Fantasy, etc, Wigram's Sherlock Holmes is right up his alley.
Not only is the new Holmes more deadly than Chuck Norris, he's an expert scientist too. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes uses little science beyond simple clue gathering* because science was not as prominent nor as developed in Doyle's day. But Wigram's celluloid Sherlock uses primarily forensic science to solve his crime rather than impressive deductive reasoning. Because there is not much focus on Holmes's thought processes throughout the movie**, the end scene in which all is revealed seems disappointing, leaving the viewer wondering whether "this is it?" It is unrealistic to expect the ending to be as good as Doyle's, but it could still be a little more substantive. Overall, Holmes simply discovers the type of scientific cooking Moriarty uses to fool people.
There might be a cryptic sub-plot concerning science triumphing over religion or superstition in Sherlock Holmes. Professor Moriarty tries to chicane the public into thinking he wields the devil's power.¹ Christian protesters are portrayed briefly as morbid lunkheaded doomsayers. Holmes, of course, uses his scientific knowledge to expose Moriarty's feigned death and bogus resurrection. A Christian could interpret this event in a positive way, as meaning that no man other than Christ can be resurrected. Or, he could simply glean a subconscious doubt for any resurrection in the presence of scientific scrutiny.² Overall however, at least the bad guy is associated with the devil.
Finally, Sherlock Holmes resembles a James Bond film because Sherlock's nemesis puts him in many an "easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death." There is even a doomsday device that Holmes and his cohorts must stop. Where would a modern Hollywood movie be without such unique treasures?
Wigram wanted to emphasize the quirky dysfunctional side of Holmes, but he did so to the extreme--in comic book caricature fashion. Holmes spends days in a dark room designing more contraptions than would Dexter in his la-boratory. In this way, Sherlock Holmes is almost interchangeable with Downey Jr.'s Iron Man character. Holmes is definitely an ubermensch--or super-duper character we're all supposed to be imbued with, and Sherlock Holmes is a character-driven film.³ Nonetheless Downey plays the quirky role well.⁴
The quality of ubermenschia is not only confined to Holmes: Watson, played by Jude Law, is also a ninja expert, supposedly justified as such by Wigram because Doyle once mentions his military past. Much has been said about Jude Law's and Downey Jr's "chemistry," but unless we're talking in terms of tag-team fighting tactics, the two really didn't have a whole lot of time together on set for any grown-up interaction--which wasn't really their fault.
Rachel McAdams plays a Holmes' villainess love interest, a character entirely Wigram's. Doyle's Holmes was unconcerned with women, having lost his true love early in life to an illness. Perhaps Wigram felt he could better the movie by giving a lady a prominent role. Perhaps he added the McAdams's character as an Insignificat.⁵ The female character, also an ubermensch, is nearly as smart as Holmes, and beats up a man 3 times her size. I suppose McAdams plays the role well, but, on a lesser note, she should go back to her natural blonde hair color.
Scenery and Music
In keeping with its comic book motif, the film paints a slightly grotesque and grim picture of Victorian London. The dark streets are laden with mud, the skies always cloudy, and the street characters exotically hideous. Notwithstanding this, the costumes are accurate, as are the carriages, rooms, and buildings. Insofar as Sherlock Holmes orthodoxy is concerned, Holmes wears not his typical hat, but a cowboyish hat with dark spectacles. Downey Jr. doesn't have the Rathbonesque aquiline nose either. Throughout the film a Halloween-like ragtime piano arrangement plays. There is also a banjo piece in the movie which isn't too bad.
Everything is just a bit overdone in this film, besides dialogue and plot which are barely done. The apocalyptic setting, ostentatious special effects, and ubermensch characters make Sherlock Holmes reek of idolatry. But hey, at least it won't leave you Avatarred and Feathered.
*I'm wrong about this since Doyle's Holmes was actually an expert chemist and did use a lot of forensic science. In my opinion, however, the movie focuses too much on the "Dexter's Lab" portrayal of Holmes.
**For a better explanation of this see this, see this Buzzine article.
¹ However, Moriarty does seem to commence over a genuine satanic ritual in the beginning of the film.
² Jewish producer Joel Silver probably would have no problem with debunking any resurrection. Nor would director Guy Ritchie who married Madonna who is perhaps the most notorious committer of sacrilege in human history.
³The Ancient Greeks believed stories should be foremostly plot-driven, as do I. Thanks to Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder for putting this insight in their Avatar article so I could copy it.
⁴Robert Downey Jr. is in good standing with the Nothington Post, not only because he's a decent actor but because he defended Mel Gibson during Mel's anti-semitic tirade crisis. Mel is esteemed here because he dared stand up to the atheistic Hollywood cabal by making a movie, not just about an Old Testament Bible story, but about Our Lord's passion.
⁵The Insignificat is an offertory casting to Feminism by placing a woman in an awkward role previously not designated for a female. The lady character usually does manly things like beat up monsters, etc. It is common in Hollywood films today.