When you know that Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) is the film’s villain, and that the word “Reichenbach” comes up fairly early in the script, it’s not difficult to figure out that the plot is very loosely based on “The Final Problem,” the one Holmes story in which Moriarty makes an actual appearance. Nevertheless, how the characters get to the denouement is as far different from the story we know as the characters are from the versions we know.
Part of the fun, at least for me, is counting the things that “our” Holmes would “never” do, for example, dressing like a Bohemian ragbag even when not supposedly in disguise. Going to meet Irene Adler at a good restaurant wearing his cravat inside his open collar? Horrors! Holmes always had a sense of humor, but Holmes should never be ridiculous, as he appears on a couple of occasions in this film.
Oh, well, it’s still a good romp. Jude Law as Dr. Watson has lots to do, and pretty well banishes the “Watson as boob” idea, although of course Holmes is always several moves ahead of the ordinary men. Jared Harris is quite chilling as Moriarty, a veritable thinking machine to whom human lives are just so many beans to be counted. Noomi Rapace as gypsy “Madame Simza,” is a nice addition, playing a believable competent woman who leads men and fights effectively in her own defense, but also cries out when hurt, and checks her face after a brawl to see how badly she’s been hurt. Kelly Reilly is also excellent as Mary Morstan-Watson, who survives being thrown off a train with reasonable aplomb, and becomes a valuable asset to Holmes as the plot works out. While I was pleased to see Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes, and he did a good job with the role as given him, I was very disappointed with the part—speaking again of things that “our” characters would NEVER do--. I was also disappointed by the treatment given Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams); as THE woman in the Holmes stories, I though she deserved better.
There are things I like about the movie: the use of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” as a theme, the uses and differing outcomes of Holmes’ fight-planning fugues. There were things I didn’t like, markedly Guy Ritchie’s hodge-podge of styles. Some fight scenes, such as the one with the Cossack assassin (!) are blurs of motion in which it’s hard to see what’s happening. Others are larded with slo-mo “bullet time”, so you never really get used to how you ought to be watching the action scenes.
Although frequently referred to as “Steampunk,” this movie is less so than the last one, with only one real gadget in it, although the weapons technology is pretty much 20 to 25 years advanced of what it ought to be.
Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives enough to make it a fun movie, although it’s really a Victorian James Bond, or updated Wild, Wild West type of movie than anything resembling the old style Sherlock Holmes.
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