When someone approached Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about reviving Sherlock Holmes in a play and whether he can get the Great Detective to marry, Doyle said, “Marry him, or murder him for all I care”. Hundreds of pastiche, plays and films that followed did that. Director Guy Ritchie certainly took note of that.
Having read and seen them (except the plays), I conclude that Ritchie’s very entertaining Sherlock Holmes to be vastly very faithful to Doyle’s works.
Look, first and foremost, they are not great work literatures and Doyle worked hard to establish himself as a serious author as opposed to the magazine series writer (he admitted that he may have given birth to fictional series). In fact, commenting on great mysteries, Raymond Chandler dismissed the story in Sherlock Holmes adventures and said they were all about “attitude”, which is precisely the reason why many of us loved Sherlock Holmes. Forget the plot, we love the guy.
He is antithesis of all the Victorian era fictional heroes. He is nastier than David Copperfield, darker than Heathcliff, bolder than Quartermain, more vicious than the Count Dracie, and definitely more charming, if need be, than Jane Austen’s heroes (my wife will kill me for saying this).
All the actors who ever played Holmes, and he ranks among the character played by most actors next to Hamlet I believe, have shown one side or more. Downey Jr’s Holmes is moody, arrogant, intelligent, untidy, sometimes unhuman (not inhumane), funny, engaging, brilliant, sarcastic, athletic and strangely sexy. Okay, Holmes in the original was not meant to be sexy and yet he seemed to have what Doyle describes, mesmerising power to soothe distressed women.
Sherlock Holmes does not look like Peter Cushing, he was envisioned by Doyle as looking more like a Red Indian, and it was the original’s illustrator Sydney Paget’s fault. He does not wear Deerstalker hat, and we have to blame Paget again. So, why bother about how Downey Jr’s look. In fact, we are not even bothered with his Accent as much as it bothered the heck out of us when utilised by Kevin Costner or Keanu Reeves.
We forget that Holmes is the ultimate badass of the 19th and early 20th century. He died and came back to nail his “murderer” in two short stories. Criminals are scared of him, policemen envy him and foreign royalties come in disguises to seek his services. The man was the superhero of that time and the Holmes in this film confirms us that, only with 21st century film goers’ taste incorporated.
You get to see lots of fisticuffs, of martial arts variety, chase scenes, and stunts you wouldn’t have expected the definitive big screen Holmes, Basil Rathbone, to do. Downey Jr’s Holmes would make us believe that he could. And so did Jude Law playing Dr. Watson the way the Doyle intended, tough guy and ladies men who never failed to carry the revolver on Holmes’ behalf. I never liked Law like I did in this film, very likable indeed.
We got a lot to thank Guy Ritchie for updating Holmes for the 21st century, never mind the whining so-called Holmes fan who probably only saw the Universal movies. And we really have to thank that American actor for playing a very memorable Holmes. And God, if you exist, please don’t let anything happen to Robert Downey Jr.