Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ninja Steampunk 21st Century Sherlock Holmes

Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes on the screen in 2009 was not just the cerebral Holmes played by Basil Rathbone from 1939-1946, or the hipper Holmes of Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Percent Solution novel made into a movie in 1976. Downey's Holmes in Guy Ritche's movie had all of this - a brilliant mind and far more than a droll sense of humor - in a ninja, James Bondian warrior who could take out the most physically intimidating bad guys with the best of them.

This Sherlock actually did have an opponent who could have come straight out of Bond - a giant French guy, who reminded me of Jaws, the Bond bad guy with the teeth - as well a proximate master villain (Blackwell) whose extinction in the end by Holmes only cleared the way for the true master (that would be Professor Moriarty), just as Bond's vanquishing of Dr. No only led to Blofeld. Throw into this Lord Blackwell's evil magic - shades of you know who in Harry Potter - and you have an altogether satisfying, excellent adventure.

But Holmes' logic strips away the magic, and shows it be clever use of science, circa the late Victorian age, and this gets to the heart of this movie and its ambiance: a great steampunk movie, one of the best of its kind. Shot with a keen eye for the dawning of electrical power, for the industrial revolution flexing its keening, massive weight, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes takes us back to a world which movies made much closer to Sherlock's original time couldn't show us. In a way, Sherlock Holmes is this steampunk world is like the Avatar Garden of Eden world in space - two convincing, immersive, other-worldly creations.

The movie also provided palpable updates of women menaced by buzz saws that hearken back to silent movies, and the story was pretty good, as well. Sherlock is desired by sexy Irene Adler, who gets to kiss him only after she's drugged him. This continues the essentially asexual Holmes of Basil Rathbone, and obviously is decidedly unBondian. Dr. Watson, powerfully played by Jude Law, is also unlike the bumbling sidekick Watson of the 1940s, and can throw a mean punch of his own (including once at Holmes). This Dr. Watson also reminded me for some reason of Bones McCoy in Star Trek - "I'm a doctor, Jim!" - which is all to the good.

It's no easy feat to bring back of cast of characters from so long ago with so many incarnations. With little more than a voice for Professor Moriarity in this movie, it's clear that the adventures of this new Sherlock Holmes have just begun.

6-min podcast review of Sherlock Holmes

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