Sherlock Holmes (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material.
Length: 128 minutes
Grade: BD+DD=C
Budget: $90 million
Box Office: $546 million (209 U.S., 307 Intl., 30 DVD)

Written by: Michael Robert Johnson (First script), Anthony Peckham (Invictus), Simon Kindberg (Jumper, X-Men 3, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), and Lionel Wigram (August Rush, Harry Potter 5+6), based in name only on the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Directed by: Guy Ritchie (RocknRolla, Revolver, Snatch, and Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Strong

Watson is leaving Holmes and getting married, but when a ferocious villain he had pronounced dead has returned from the grave to threaten to destroy Parliament, the duo are back on the case.

Entertainment Value: B
If I judge this movie entirely on its own merits, it’s not too bad. Certainly it’s not great, but it’s at least fine. This is difficult to do, however, because once again I feel like something cherished in my youth has been defiled in bringing it to the 2010 screen just like James Bond, GI Joe, The Transformers, Scooby Doo, and even the Dukes of Hazzard. This just isn’t Sherlock Holmes, other than in name, and it’s truly sad that Hollywood is so incapable of inventing its own characters that instead it just twists the classic ones into a modern mold. Holmes is a reprobate with a gifted mind rather than a distinguished gentleman any parent could affirm to his children. The fact that they picked Downey to play the part tells you everything you need to know (he’s an excellent actor, by the way, but he’s not Sherlock Holmes). If Sherlock Holmes was a 2010 American martial arts expert living a hundred twenty years ago in England with a British accent, this is what you’d get.

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence D, Language B+
There are a couple of sexually suggestive scenes and implied nudity. The language is the mildest of profanity, which is nice. People are constantly drinking and smoking. There’s some gambling in the plot. The real issue here will be violence and what the MPAA rightly calls startling images. The movie opens with a woman about to be murdered as a human sacrifice and soon after has a man bursting into flames and dying. There are plenty of fighting scenes (to be expected in a Guy Ritchie film) that are glorified. A woman is in danger of being sawn in half in a slaughterhouse. I would give this an R-15 rather than a PG-13.

Significant Content: D
If you are massively clever and keenly observant, you can solve any problem. Also, none of your character flaws will matter because people who need your services will ultimately forgive you for your reprobate nature. Things that seem supernatural ultimately have physical explanations. Don’t judge the case before you actually have enough of the facts to be sure.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
Here is where I will punish the movie for trampling on the memory of my beloved Basil Rathbone. If you wanted Batman, make another Batman movie. If you wanted a James Bond, make another Bond flick. But why must you try to turn Sherlock Holmes into a martial artist? At least having Steven Seagal play him would have been honest about the betrayal of the character. I can’t blame Guy Ritchie because he ultimately only makes such films. I also can’t blame him in part because this is a more faithful interpretation of the stories, which did have fighting skills in them. But movies always exist in a tradition, and the tradition for Holmes was firmly set over 50 years ago. I must blame the producers for letting him and the writers do this in the first place. At the same time, I must give some credit for the truly fascinating character in this movie: Dr. Watson. More on that in a moment.

Discussion Questions:
~Why do you think the makers of this film chose to make Sherlock Holmes their lead character rather than just inventing an entirely new character with a new name? Do you feel like this is faithful to the tradition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters?
~Do Holmes’s skills as a crime-solver compensate for him being an arrogant jerk? Does character work like that, where we can make up for our defects by having valuable skills? Can you name some other arenas of life where we see this same problem occurring? Why is it so dangerous to offer someone like that as a role model in movies?
~Holmes says that it’s the little details which matter the most in discerning the truth. Do you agree? If you thought this, would it lead you to keen observation or to skepticism or even paranoia?
~By far the most interesting character in this movie is Dr. Watson. Can you explain why he stays with Holmes? Is it related to Holmes’s accusation of a morbid curiosity and desire for adventure? Would you say he has a tragic flaw of being drawn to the bad boy in Holmes, just as Holmes is drawn to the bad girl in Adler? In what sense do all of these characters represent an inability to enjoy the ordinary? What does it say about us as moviegoers who enjoy the odd, bizarre, and macabre apparently just as much as they do?
~In the film, “Dangerous Liasons,” Glenn Close famously asks John Malkovitch why we only chase the ones who run away. He answers, “Immaturity.” How does this assessment fit with this movie?
~At one point Holmes says that we shouldn’t form a theory until we really have the facts, but he also seems prone to making wild speculations on a few details, so which do you think is generally the better approach in our thinking: quick or slow judgments? What does the Bible say?
~Have you ever discovered yourself having made an error and twisted subsequent data to fit your conclusion? How were you persuaded in the end? How can this be best avoided?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Evaluating the fiancée at dinner.
Overall Grade: C
I could have told you this would be massively successful at the box office, but I can also tell you that this predictable reality saddens me. At one point we had some morally decent and primarily smart heroes. Now they’re all degenerates with black belts. Once again, I find myself encouraging you to see Equilibrium instead, especially if you like the idea of predictive martial arts. That’s not so much a sleuth movie, but it’s tons of cool fun.

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