Bromance is alive and well in Guy Ritchie’s rather popular adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective Sherlock Holmes. This is a big, slick studio production with its mind on franchise potential, and Ritchie (Snatch) remains one of the few head-banging hipsters in the Quentin Tarantino mold still skulking around the dark alleys of pulpy neo-noirville.
And, yes, Robert Downey Jr. trades quips and quibbles with an astute and reliable Jude Law as Dr. Watson, so there are levels of intrigue beyond the shiny surface.
Lest we forget, though, Holmes and Watson could be considered a pair of bromantic forefathers. Granted, in the past the high-octane violence might not have been a staple of the genre, but these two were as close as close could be. A mannered mix of humor and affection always existed between them and would only be questioned when taken out of context. And context, to some extent, is key to appreciating what Ritchie has done with things here.
Holmes, in what everyone involved hopes is the ground floor of a triplex at the very least, quite thoughtfully explains, blow by blow, a series of well-executed moves that will subdue a thuggish combatant as part of a daring attempt to prevent the nefarious Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong, who with a little more to work with, could have rivaled Alan Rickman in Die Hard as a classy and dangerously engaging villain) from sacrificing a hapless victim while on the way to securing hellish domination over the earth.
Thwarting the plan was an anticipated ruse in Blackwood’s even grander scheme to instill fear in the hearts of the early Londoners and reclaim the independent American states.
All of which takes a backseat to the personal dynamic between Holmes, caught in a bit of a pickle involving a former criminal-minded lover (Rachel McAdams) returned to bedevil him, and Watson, who is on the verge of engagement to Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), a sharp-minded governess with a sound understanding of the relationship between the two men.
In fact, the would-be Mrs. Watson is the most modern and aware character here because — although she isn't privy to the action as we are — she sees Holmes and Watson as we do, and it would seem that she might be able to co-exist alongside them quite nicely. McAdams’ crafty tart might be a more prominently featured element in the action set pieces, but she’s a one-trick show pony and no threat to the chemistry between Holmes and Watson, which also means she has no real future in the franchise.
It could be argued that Ritchie doesn’t want audiences to become too comfortable with the familiar bromantic paradigm. Looming a bit awkwardly over the matter of preventing Blackwood from taking over the world like the forefather of one of Bond’s antagonists is the presence of Professor Moriarty, the true opposite to Holmes, who is likely to step into a more central role in the next installment.
It would be a fascinating but highly unlikely disruption of expectations if Moriarty made his way between Holmes and Watson. But the truly revolutionary shift in the Holmes/Watson narrative and in Ritchie’s oeuvre could be the development of Miss Morstan. Is it time for all the lads of London to grow up and appreciate the power and influence of a strong independent woman? Grade: B-
Opens Dec. 25. Check out theaters and show times, see more photos from the film and get theater details here.