As a holiday film, it's fine. Lots of action. Beautiful costumes...excellent sets (though they tend to remind one of the uber dirty London of Oliver, when they should have probably struck a happy medium between that and the sanitized Rathbone London. The Jeremy Brett films got that more right, I think).
It's a little long, given that the plot is extremely simple and action- oriented. You're (we weren't, anyway) never much puzzled by the shallow and flimsy "mystery."
The principals, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, do a good enough job. Law is a very acceptable Watson. The strength of the role here is that his Watson is about as far from Nigel Bruce as you can get. The weakness is that the relationship between Holmes and Watson is often reduced to semi-comic byplay or seeming animosity.
The film's relationship to the Canon? Tenuous. There are some nice quotes and references, but in typical Hollywood film fashion, things get twisted around in a manner which will be anathema to Sherlockians and Holmesians. For example, in the film, Watson is engaged to Miss Morstan, yet we are told Holmes has never met the lady.
Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is brought back for another bow, and does a pretty good job, even if she seems much changed from the Irene of "A Scandal in Bohemia."
Eddie Marsan as Lestrade does well with what little he's given, even if the principals continually mispronouce his name.
Mark Strong as the villain does a good turn, even if said villain, "Lord Blackwood," is pretty pedestrian.
But it all rests on Holmes, doesn't it? And that's where my problems with the film lie. In his defense, Downey does does an OK Holmes — I've seen worse. But the problem is that he looks about as much like Sherlock Holmes — as described in the canon — as Dudley Moore does. He could have been helped along by wardrobe and makeup, but Ritchie's decision to ignore the detective's "catlike cleanliness," his exemplary personal hygiene, means that's out. I spent most of the film wishing Holmes would take a shave and put on some clean clothes. Yes, I know that sounds obsessive, but I really couldn't get past that.
Also problematical for me was the film's decision to portray Holmes as "a man of action." Certainly he was that; that was an apect of his character often ignored by other films . . . but here it's overdone to the point of being ludicrous, with Holmes jumping out a window to crash through the roof of an outhouse in comic fashion no doubt designed to amuse the kiddies. That's not what stops me loving the movie, though.
The fatal flaw? The poor story. The mystery is exceedingly ho-hum. If it weren't for the beautiful sets to divert you (and the crashing soundtrack to deafen you) between fight-scenes, you'd be looking at your watch in no time.
Sherlock Holmes is likely to spawn a sequel — one is set-up at the end with (gasp!) it being revealed that Miss Adler (unless I missed it, nothing is mentioned about what became of Godfrey Norton) is actually working for Professor Moriarty.
Sigh. If they can't just do one of the novels or stories, you'd think they could come up with something more original than the nth film resurrection of Moriarty.
I do suggest all Sherlockians do see the film, however. It's a diverting evenings entertainment despite its (many) faults, and there is plenty for us to like and enjoy. It is a good Holmes film as Holmes films run; the sad thing is it could have been a very good one if the action had been turned down one click and if we'd been offered a more credible Sherlock Holmes.
In summary, this has much more in common with the Rathbone Holmes films for Universal, just done with a big budget and 21st century technology, than it does with the Jeremy Brett or Arthur Wontner or Peter Cushing Holmes films.
Copyright © Rod Mollise 2009