Re-watching: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Recently re-watched Sherlock Holmes, the first of the two Guy Ritchie movies with Robert Downey, Jr as the famous fictional detective. I’ve seen both movies multiple times, but on this re-watch several things struck me that I hadn’t noticed before:

  • Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler is the weakest part of the movie. Her acting doesn't hold up very well - especially compared to the actress who played Irene Adler for the recent Sherlock TV series - but within the film itself she seems stiff and dull compared to the performers around her. I came away with a greater feel for Mary - Watson's fiancĂ©e - as a character than Adler, which is perhaps why McAdams was dropped so early in the sequel, while Kelly Reilly's Mary got a larger role.
  • The villain is entirely wrong. He was cast incorrectly, coming off as cartoonish and silly rather than threatening. The whole occult mis-drection angle is outside the mood of a Sherlock mystery, and clashes with the otherwise steampunk-lite industrial trappings of the movie. It's a constant distraction to be rolling my eyes every time the villain shows up and starts mumbling about hexes and spells.
  • The action sequences where we see Holmes calculate each move in advance are still amazing. They make what would be standard - and therefore boring - fight sequences interesting again, giving us insight into how much calculation Holmes puts into every part of his life, and completely justifying the film's emphasis on more physical roles for both Holmes and Watson.
  • In comparison, the extended action scenes toward the end of the movie - shots fired, martial arts employed, multiple fights going on at once - just seem busy, and not that interesting. They don't have any of the comedy or setting interest that the first fight sequence between Holmes and Dredger has, nor do they use the Holmes-fight-calculation technique that made the other fights interesting to watch (would it have been so bad to show Adler or Watson trying to do the same fight planning during this sequence?).
Overall, still a good movie, and an interesting take on the Holmesian mythos, but with some glaring flaws. As I recall it, the second movie fixed these mistakes and kept what worked from the first film, making it the better movie. I'll have to re-watch it soon to check if that still holds true.
Ron Toland @mindbat