Forget the deerstalker. Forget the calabash pipe. Forget the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson”. Forget, indeed, most of the props, quotes and attributes that have accrued to Conan Doyle’s legendary consulting detective. Robert Downey Jr’s dashing, devil-may-care Sherlock Holmes, unexpectedly kick-ass hero of Guy Ritchie’s glossy new movie, is unlike any other Holmes you’ve seen before – more Bourne or Bond than Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett.
Ritchie? Downey Jr? Jude Law as Doctor Watson! Sherlock Holmes the movie should have been a disaster, but it turns out to be a surprisingly entertaining romp. OK, the plot is rubbish, involving Holmes and Watson’s efforts to foil the dastardly Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) and his occult scheme to seize power in Victorian London, a setup full of Masonic mumbo-jumbo that could have been dreamed up by Dan Brown.
The resulting caper lurches from one big set-piece scene to the next, but the cast have such fun with their roles that it seems churlish to protest too much. Downey Jr is a delight, giving his Holmes an impish sense of mischief and proving unexpectedly nimble in the bouts of bare-knuckle, bare-chested boxing that Ritchie shoehorns into the story (now, that isn’t a surprise).
Law’s Watson, another shock, turns out to be a perfect foil for Downey Jr’s Holmes. He’s a dab hand with a revolver and far less of a bumbler than his predecessors. Together, the duo form a squabbling, bickering, love-hate partnership that is so companionable that their putative love interests – played by Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly – get left in the shade.
This new Sherlock Holmes won’t please everyone, but given that many of its most startling touches (such as Holmes’s boxing prowess) have their basis in the books, and given that every era reinvents Holmes in its own image (Rathbone’s Holmes tackled Nazis, after all), even Holmes purists should be pleased that the game’s afoot again.
On general release from 26th December.