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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

CritiqueQuotesText • Sherlock Holmes at the movies

1922, 1929–1933, 1931–1937, 1939–1946, 1954–1955, 1959–1984, 1962–1992, 1965, 1970, 1975–1988, 1976, 1979, 1984–1994, 2000–2002, 2009–2011, 2010–2017

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes first editionFirst edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication

Literature form
Story collection

Crime, mystery

Writing language

Author's country

Twelve stories, approx. 94,000 words

Downey and Law
Jude Law's Dr. Watson, left, and Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes are retro action heroes.

Steampunk Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes (2009): Film, 129 minutes; director Guy Ritchie; writers Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg; featuring Robert Downy Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011): Film, 129 minutes; director Guy Ritchie; writers Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney; featuring Robert Downy Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Eddie Marsan

Some purists would include the next Holmes outings, the recent big-budget Holmes movies, in the category of comedies or parodies.

But they would be missing the point.

Every generation gets to reinvent the world's most famous sleuth and there's no reason why today's should have to be content with the pinnacle reached by Jeremy Brett for the boomer generation and by Basil Rathbone for their grandparents.

Yes, Sherlock Holmes (2009) turns our cerebral duo into a pair of action heroes in a buddy film. Or, more precisely, it takes a tip from the steampunk craze and places heroes with a modern sensibility in the techno-mechanical Victorian era.

Sure, Jude Law is too young to play the veteran doctor of previous Sherlock Holmes films (though not necessarily the Watson of the books who is probably in his mid-thirties).

Downey and Law
Holmes as Robert Downey (2009).

And Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock is too...well, too Robert Downey Jr. Intensely hedonistic, drugged out, and irreverent.

But, dammit, they're both interesting in their own ways.

It may be an action flick but it's a pretty good action flick. Better than most, in that its CGI tricked-out action scenes may stretch the imagination but never completely defy physics—or credibility.

And, such a relief, any seemingly paranormal elements introduced are rationally exposed by our scientifically minded detective, taking a tip perhaps from The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Director Guy Ritchie pulls off something of a miracle, applying all his dynamic cinematic storytelling smarts (as previously seen in RocknRolla, Snatch, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrrels) to the Doyle characters, and making it work for both those who venerate the canon and those who had never previously laid eyes on it.

Some core values of the original vision are upheld. The complementary comradeship of the two leads. Holmes's exasperating but exhilarating genius. The simultaneous spiting and embracing of social norms. The dingy, Victorian-era setting. And the love of mysteries for the solving of them.

Trailer for Sherlock in 2009 highlights action scenes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

Sherlockians may complain that "the woman", Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), is too amorously cozy with Holmes and that the whole plot of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) coming back from the dead as a sort of Dracula figure to take over the British empire is way over the top for an Arthur Conan Doyle story.

And they'd be right. We Holmes fans win some and lose some in this massive rebooting of the franchise. (Just as Trekkies did with the same year's Star Trek relaunch).

But after all the brilliant Sherlock Holmes portrayals of the twentieth century, there was really nothing more to be added in that vein, and this latest Sherlock Holmes can re-energize the myth for the twenty-first. It must connect with a large number of people as it's certainly been huge at the box office. And for those of us who still read or who can still stand to watch a film in black and white, well, we have all those classic stories and videos to enjoy. No one can take those away from us.

The game of sequels

It was nice to get a sequel to this new Sherlock Holmes, which was shaping up to become a memorable series of films.

Not everyone, however, thought the second film lived up to its promise. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) is seen by some as a retreading—albeit a popular one—of the first film. An equal number, however, enjoy it as building on the first.

For one thing, the purportedly supernatural elements are jettisoned. For another, the plot touches on points from the Arthur Conan Doyle works, namely "The Final Problem" in which Holmes famously disappears down the Reichenbach Falls. It's fun trying to find the connections in such a vastly different narrative.

McAdams's Irene Adler is dispensed with disappointingly quickly. But Holmes and Law spend much of the time fighting the two criminal geniuses of the Doyle stories: respectively, Professor Moriarty and Sebastian Moran. The battle takes them across Europe and into the world of international diplomacy—for the villains are apparently aiming to instigate a world war from which they may profit.

Again there are lots of special effects that never get in the way of the story but help tell it. And lots of mechanical technology, though perhaps not as much as in the first film. This outing seems more focused on the key relationships, namely that between Holmes and Watson and that between Holmes and Moriarty.

A third film in the series was expected a few years after the second, but as of this writing (nearly a decade later) we're still waiting.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotesText • Sherlock Holmes at the movies

1922, 1929–1933, 1931–1937, 1939–1946, 1954–1955, 1959–1984, 1962–1992, 1965, 1970, 1975–1988, 1976, 1979, 1984–1994, 2000–2002, 2009–2011, 2010–2017