Film Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

A slightly different version of this entry originally appeared on my old blog on January 6, 2010.

This review has some mild spoilers. To read them, highlight the invisible text with your mouse. 

 

I’ve been waiting since summer, with equal parts of excitement and trepidation, for the new Sherlock Holmes film. I saw the trailer months ago and I was aghast. I was quivering with fear and excitement.

Yes, I love Guy Ritchie’s first two films, and I worried about this complete stranger when he got married to Madonna. Yes, I like Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law a lot, but they are not the first actors to come to my mind when I think of Holmes and Watson. So there was a lot of fangirl hand-wringing on my part.

Months ago, I made a pact with two other Sherlockian friends to watch the film so we could bash it apart together. I was even prepared to do this: I had re-read through two-thirds of Leslie S. Klinger’s New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and stopped with the less-than-stellar stories in “The Casebook.”

Alas, that pact remained unfulfilled. Right now, TJ is in Manila, I’m visiting the US, and Rain is marooned somewhere in the Middle East. I had to watch this film by myself.

What can I say? After trying to zero out all expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. After hemming and hawing about it, I have now accepted that I like it. And yeah, I’d probably watch it again.

A tiny screen capture of Sherlock Holmes. A Warner Bros. image.

There, I said it. Let all the purists wring my neck. There’s something about this adaptation that reviewers either violently love it or hate it. I think I’m one of the few who like it with some reservations, but even saying so will definitely result in some violent reactions. Whatever.

Why do I like it? I appreciate all the little details that show that the filmmakers did their research, down to the obvious bits like Holmes never wearing a deerstalker and not saying “Elementary, dear Watson.” I appreciated the more subtle bits, like Holmes shooting V.R. (Victoria Regina) into his apartment wall, the existence of Watson’s long-suffering bull pup, Mrs. Hudson and the Baker Street Irregulars making an appearance, and the detailed explanations behind each deduction. Yes, Holmes was a pugilist and a master of martial arts. These details are all true to the short stories and the novellas. Hell, even bits of dialogue are lifted directly from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, like Holmes yelling “data, data, I can’t make bricks without clay!”

I even like their theory on why Holmes would let Watson pack the gun. This is one of the few mysteries in the Doyle stories I feel is never satisfactorily resolved.

What I didn’t appreciate, though was the obvious toying with fans. There are old fans who have argued this question to death, and there will be new fans who will argue it out all over again: Holmes/Watson or Holmes/Irene Adler?

Crazy people on the internet argue about stupid things like this, and I feel that this film was trying to please both the straight and the yaoi fanbases, and failed miserably. I read somewhere that the filmmakers wanted to highlight Victorian homo-eroticism and the gay reading of the Holmes/Watson relationship. If that was so, why is so much time dedicated to Adler in final cut? Did they chicken out at the last minute?

I’m only going to shout this once, but here goes: GUY RITCHIE, YOU TROLL. I’M GLAD YOU RECOVERED FROM YOUR MARRIAGE TO MADONNA, BUT REALLY, YOUR FILM WILL FEED THE SHIPPER SHARKS FOR YEARS.

I guess the guy doesn’t realize that people have been arguing about Holmes’s sexuality since Reichenbach. Hmm.

The film does have some warts, though. I got the feeling that Robert Downey Jr. didn’t have the time to learn the violin, and that aspect of Holmes’s was served up to the comedy gods. I felt that Watson’s limp wasn’t convincing (then again, Watson in the stories couldn’t remember if he was shot in the leg or shoulder…) I wish they used some other plot other than Evil Secret Society Wants to Rule the World, but evil secret societies are a favorite with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Perhaps my only real complaint about the movie is that it rips off Fullmetal Alchemist. The moment Holmes drew a pentagram on the floor with chalk, I was thinking, “Edward Elric, here we come!” The murders, the map, the alchemy symbolism, the need for five sacrifices… ah, I believe I’ve seen that all before. I’m definitely giving Fullmetal Alchemist too much credit here—they obviously drew on the same sources for inspiration—but still. A few plot twists would have been refreshing.

But that’s the problem with adaptations, right? That there’s little breathing space for originality while dealing with such a well-loved character?

Holmes himself would think it’s a three-pipe problem.