It’s ironic that the 2009 movie version of Sherlock Holmes is more successful in seeing through what Arthur Conan Doyle attempted in “The Final Problem” - namely, killing Sherlock Holmes. Not literally - the big guns at Warner Bros would have balked at the idea - but rather, killing off a certain idea of Holmes and replacing it with another. Gone are the deerstalker cap and the clipped British accent. In its place is a brawler-scientist who behaves like a cross between Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow and Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity.
Its fun to watch Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law quarrel like bickering lovers, but co-dependent hero-sidekick relationships are a common enough trope in action movies today without submitting Conan Doyle’s creations to it. Similarly surprising is Ritchie’s decision to use the vague mention of “baritsu” in “The Adventure of the Empty House” as an excuse to turn Holmes into a bare-knuckled brawler. Still, it’s all quite diverting while it lasts. Mark Strong as the criminal mastermind, Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, and Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade are appropriately menacing, spunky and befuddled. Downey Jr has fun with the titular role, but he’s a little too good-looking, and possesses such unending reserves of wit and brawn that even hardened fans might find the package tough to digest. Jude Law, though, makes a charming Watson, displaying the same virile charm he did as Errol Flynn in Scorcese’s The Aviator.
The DVD comes padded with an extra disc of supplements, including a making-of featurette, and closer looks at the production design, costume and casting. It is during the course of one of these that two comments, which sum the film up perfectly, are made. “This is best described as a Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes”, says one of the producers. “It’s the 1890s version of James Bond”, says another. Exactly.
A version of this review appeared in Time Out Delhi.