I finally got to see the latest of the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, and to rewatch the first one. Warning, past here, there be spoilers.
I remember when the first movie came out, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a really fun movie and loved RDJ, as always. But…now that I’ve seen Sherlock, it is hard to think of these movies in the way I once did. It is difficult to compare them. The BBC version is modern, taking place in 21st century London. But in many ways, it is far more true to the ideas and the characters of the original stories than any other adaptation I can think of.
My problems with the RDJ movies mostly come up when I compare them to the BBC series or to the original stories. Starting with RDJ as Sherlock Holmes. There are some parts that work–the boredom, the erratic behavior, the somewhat co-dependent relationship with Watson. But much of what they do in the movies does not work. For one thing, RDJ seems to be mostly playing himself. Or he’s playing Tony Stark, who I imagine to be just like him. Arrogant, strutting, egotistical and self-aware simultaneously. In many ways, a petulant child. In the BBC series, on the other hand, Benedict Cumberbatch (and the writers, obviously) portray him more as someone who lacks empathy, a ‘high-functioning sociopath’ with no time for details (or people) who detract from his desire to occupy his mind with a mystery.
Another problem I have is that there is very little of the actual deductive skills on display in these films. In the first, the most obvious example is when Holmes meets Watson’s fiance. In the second, his meeting of Madam Simza (played by the kick-ass Noomi Rapace) is the best example of his deductive skills.
In the BBC series, we see multiple examples in every episode of these deductive skills, displayed both through dialogue and through text on the screen to indicate what, exactly, Holmes can see when he looks at people. The closest to this that we get in the RDJ movies is the prescience he has about physical combat. They spend time in every fight scene (and there are multiple per movie) to display Holmes’ ability to know what will happen before his opponent moves. This is the most powerful of his abilities in the movies. And even when he is fighting Moriarty, the big climax between two brilliant men, their incredible powers of deduction lead them to…be able to anticipate the fighting skills of the other.
And what of the enemies, the arch-nemeses of Moriarty and Holmes? I do like Jared Harris as Moriarty, perhaps because he was such a good baddy on Fringe.
But the movie barely features him, and his grand evil plan is…to acquire guns, money, and power. To make war in order to sell the implements of war? How common. Boring. I didn’t feel any of the tension that came with the Moriarty and Holmes of the BBC series. Those two seemed evenly matched.
So in comparison to the BBC series, obviously I find the RDJ movies severely and incredibly lacking. But…on the other hand, if I do not compare them, then I can tolerate the movies much better. If I do not think of these movies as in any way affiliated with the Doyle stories or the Holmes characters, then they are quite good.
I like the cinematography and the amazing job they did recreating 19th century London for the exteriors. RDJ is entertaining to watch, even as he is being goofy and ridiculous. Jude Law is awesome as Watson, and I even like him with a mustache. (A side note that I prefer the vulnerability of Martin Freeman as Watson, but I digress). And the sequel even had Stephen Fry as Mycroft! He was nothing like I would expect Mycroft to be, and he was shockingly nude for much of the time, but I love Stephen Fry no matter what he does. These are great comedy/action films, and that is high praise from someone who normally doesn’t like any action films and not a lot of comedies ever. If you’re in the mood for a little mindless fun, they’re perfect. My only problem is that Sherlock Holmes is the last person who should ever be associated with mindless fun.