Yes, it’s fun to watch Robert Downey do just about anything. I’m thinking that Hollywood could save a lot of money on their next version of The Hulk by casting Downey as Bruce Banner. Whenever he gets angry, instead of a bunch of crappy CGI, Downey could just shout “Now I’m the Hulk! Arr! Me angry!” and run around, doing stuff. If would be a marked improvement on either of the recent Hulk flics.
The Marvel Superhero he’s playing in this over-elementary film is Sherlock Holmes, pugilist extraordinaire. Wait, you’re saying, Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a Marvel character, and he was better known for solving mysteries than fisticuffs? You clearly haven’t seen this movie. Lucky you. Actually it could have been worse; (High praise for the standard Hollywood offerings of late.) Downey gets to do stuff, and there are moments in between fight and chase scenes where the great detective pretends to be sleuthing.
This movie is clearly a sequel to some excellent introduction that was never made. We’re brought in halfway through, and it’s assumed we know the characters already and like them. We do know them, though we might not recognize them, so the goodwill has to be maintained by the likeable actors. Too bad about Rachel McAdams, who seems childish, even Liza Minellish as a femme fetale con-woman. There’s a depressing Watson-is-leaving plotline which feels sequelish as well. Note to screenwriters: If you want to develop suspense, don’t suggest that one of the most famous pairings in literature (and your attempted franchise) is about to break up. Likewise, even the most historically illiterate of us would probably remember if there was ever a moment when the parliament of Great Britain was taken over by an evil wizard, unless one counts Tony Blair.
The plot rambles on, there are fights, and it’s all relentlessly ugly looking. After a good deal of time, the bad-guy is caught. Then Sherlock makes a speech explaining the mechanisms of the evil wizard’s elaborate ruse. Aha! Holmes was a detective after all! It’s one of those end of the movie monologues, aided by a rapid montage of flashbacks that’s supposed to show you the truth that was there all along (Remember the boiling frog?), if you’d only been paying better attention. You see? The movie wasn’t stupid after all; you were! This is handled so clumsily that not only will you not feel delightfully dumb; it also ruins the whole revelation montage device for all films to come. Seriously, no one should ever attempt it again.
Guy Ritchie (whom I always momentarily confuse with Guy Maddin. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Maddin were to take on Sherlock Holmes? No?) will no doubt attempt another Sherlock Holmes film, if the money rolls in as expected. He should attempt that first movie he never made. Now that he’s won an audience over with a big dumb Sherlock Holmes, maybe he should use elements that made the character popular, and timeless, to begin with. He can still blow things up and have him punch people. Or he could just get weird with it. Or lazy. As long as he give Robert Downey stuff to do, it’ll be halfway entertaining, which must be all we can hope for these days.