Thursday, 21 January 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Theres's a lot more explodium in Victorian London than I had ever suspected, but that's not something I ever complain about. And I really enjoyed Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. It's not that it's terribly well written, or that it makes any sense, or that the plot and pacing are out of the ordinary. It's simply that Robert Downey seems to be going through a phase in his career where he can't get anything wrong. He's just wonderful. Thanks to him, the film gets away with blue murder. A day after I saw it, I can't remember a single line from the film other than stuff I'd already seen in the trailer, but as long as Downey's on the screen everything seems uproarious.

I gather that a lot of people have been crabbing that it has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes as it was written. I don't really know if that's even a legitimate gripe, but I once read all of the Sherlock Holmes canon in the space of a few weeks as a teenager, and it was really quite dull. Holmes as written is a tremendously dry character. So if the film's not true to the canon, that isn't something that would really trouble me much. The canon's not much fun.

Mind you, there's a lot for me to niggle about. The science isn't up to much. Actually, it's not science. One of the big reveals at the end is that all the apparent magic the villain has used is actually science, but it might as well be magic for the all the link the alleged science has to anything in the real world. (personal favourite has to be the notion of an antidote to cyanide which can be administered orally the day before exposure. Mmmm yeah. That would work).

I don't mind this because science in movies is always bunkum. The thing which actually bugged me at the time is that the villain is called Lord Blackwood. This didn't bother me at first because I hate the aristocracy instinctively and it makes perfect sense to me that the evil genius is from the ruling class. Then half way through we get told that he's the son of the Lord Chief Justice - but that this is a secret. And my mind starts going, wait a minute. Lord Blackwood's father is the Lord Chief Justice, and his mother is some dead chick who died giving birth to him. And no-one knows that Lord Chief Justice is the father. So how did Lord Blackwood get to be a Lord at all? This is a time when the peerage was still more or less exclusively hereditary; if you didn't inherit your title, the only way you were going to be Lord anything was when you were well into a very successful career of public works. Lord Blackwood was in his thirties and had devoted his life to being a complete bastard. Now in our day, that makes you a New Labour peer, but this is Victorian England. SO that didn't add up for me.

Now I have to be fair here. It's not like suspension of disbelief was an issue in the first place; for goodness sake, this is Guy Ritchie's reimagining of Sherlock Holmes. It's not as though it was ever going to make sense. But somehow this bugged me, as did the passing reference to Lord Blackwood's cunning plan to take back the lost colonies of America; a pushover because they were weakened by the aftermath of the Civil War. Yeah, right. Tower Bridge is half completed (placing the film between 1890 and 1894). So it's been twenty five or thirty years since the Civil War ended and America is completely over it. Within five years they'll be invading Cuba.

Those things to one side, the movie is huge fun. It's basically a bunch of setpieces, many of which (Holmes' bareknuckle fight in the first act for instance) seem to be there just because Ritchie likes making movies with those kinds of scene in them. Check your brain at the door and enjoy watching Downey's winning streak roll out into a fourth year. Then go home and rent a copy of Charlie Bartlett, which is a much better film in most of the ways that really count, and will let you appreciate just how much - and in some ways how little - Downey is doing in this blockbuster.

No comments: