CSI: Victorian London

Evidently I saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie tonight. I remember the color gray and some explosions.

There’s a telltale movie ticket in my pocket, the lingering taste of a Chick-fil-a peppermint shake (awesome, albeit for a limited time), and soil on my shoes of the type only found at the Mall of Georgia, so I can deduce that I went to see Sherlock Holmes tonight. It was a couple of hours ago, so I’ve already mostly forgotten it.

That’s not necessarily a big criticism, though. I hate, hate Guy Ritchie movies to the point of headaches and nausea, and I didn’t mind this one. His affectations were at a minimum here — the occasional jump cut, a completely gratuitous attempt at showing a scene out of chronological sequence — for an action blockbuster movie, it’s downright restrained. Although I’m pretty sure it’s not the real story, I like to imagine that Ritchie saw the movie Crank and had an Oppenheimer-like fit of remorse at the horrors he’d unleashed on the world.

And I’d rather have the fleeting memory of an action movie than lingering resentment at Ritchie’s “look at me!” theatrics. Oh wait — there was a an awful lot of winking nonsexual tension between Holmes and Watson, I remember that. Nothing more overt than frequently asserting it’s a hip 2009 action movie starring two male longtime companions, but they never passed up a single chance at old-married-couple style bickering or lingering glances between the two.

But for the most part, it’s a very gray CSI episode with some terrific set design and familiar names. Purists balked at the premise of Robert Downey, Jr as a martial arts-expert Sherlock Holmes (myself included), but they (we) needn’t have worried. The original stories made Holmes out to be kind of a freak, and there’ve been plenty of adaptations and reinterpretations since then that either played up the character quirks or took liberties with history. By comparison, the new movie is practically reverent. And as you’d expect, Downey is one hell of a lot more likable than Jeremy Brett.

The basics of the characters are valid, there are plenty of opportunities for the trademark deduction sequences, and the story is unremarkable but inoffensive. Plus there’s the built-in appeal of pseudo-science in Victorian London: much of Sherlock Holmes is the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been. The only thing really wrong with it is the regrettable action movie inflation that means all characters — even mastermind detectives — can survive dozens of punches and at least two explosions with just a scratch here and there. It’d be nice to for once see a movie where the fight scenes had genuine consequences and punches really hurt.

They’ve clearly set it up for a franchise; maybe they can up the stakes for future movies. It’s laid a respectable foundation, even if it’s not as rousing or exciting as Downey’s other franchise. The trailer for Iron Man 2 looks fantastic.