This movie is a curious beast. There's much to like: It's beautiful, a gorgeous and gritty recreation of London of the late 1800s. The script is clever. It's got plenty of action. It's got Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes, and the script retains enough of the character and qualities of the Sherlock Holmes stories to satisfy the casual fan of the legendary detective.
On the other hand... it's Sherlock Holmes as an action movie. Which is just... odd. It's a little bit Batman and Robin meets James Bond with some Indiana Jones supernatural sorcery plot lines thrown in for good measure.
The movie suffers from detachment. Having knocked the stodgy and clichéd vision of Holmes off its pedestal, the film never firmly roots him in a new milieu. We know we're supposed to be affected by the fact that Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is moving out of 221B Baker Street to get married (and presumably won't be accompanying Holmes on his adventures any more), but that tension is treated almost casually; Holmes doesn't seem truly moved by that upheaval in his life (nor does Watson), so why should we care? The chemistry between Law and Downey Jr. never quite gels. Some of the situations stretch credulity, such as when we see Holmes improvise his way into a disguise and manufacture a "chance encounter" with Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) and her mysterious employer.
Yet, for all that, Sherlock Holmes is enjoyable and engaging, and I've certainly seen movies worse than this. It's a comic book movie (literally... based on a comic book treatment of Holmes), and that cuts both ways: the comic book sensibility carried out well (as it is here by director Guy Ritchie) makes for great escapism. But it also feels a bit hollow and superficial. We want more for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective than to see him reduced to being just another action-adventure hero.
(This post originally appeared on The Machine That Goes Ping.)