As it turns out Robert Downey, Jr. was in fact the best choice available, barring British talents, to play Sherlock Holmes. What is unfortunate is that the material that he was equipped to play it with was not quite up to snuff. While the script did allow Holmes many quips and chances to engage in fisticuffs it didn’t provide a typical Holmes tale or even a very good one.
Jude Law conversely is a rather good Watson but unfortunately too much of his time is spent quibbling with Holmes about Holmes’s meddling in his personal affairs, being resistant and then comes the detective work. Watson is an illustration of the problem with this film is that if you sample ten minutes it seems like two would be banter; one would be tailing, five would be fighting and the next two would be retiring to quarters and not much was discussed along the way and deductions are all rattled off by Holmes at the end. We as an audience are given no chance to ponder for ourselves and then be in awe of Holmes and then deduce what we couldn’t.
Much of the film seemed to be superfluous. An example would be Holmes’ boxing match. In the prologue scene we already saw how he intellectualizes hand-to-hand combat so there’s no purpose to it in the story except to show that he practices which means we could most definitely do without it in the cut.
Then you get Irene Adler, played by Rachel McAdams, who for all her sordid involvement in the entanglements of the plot could not have been a more one-dimensional character. She comes out of nowhere, we learn next to nothing of her visually and it all comes out in the dialogue with Holmes in the middle and end.
This film also falls into the trapping of too much action being a bad thing. After a while it just becomes monotonous to the extent that even though there are things in the fight worth noticing we never pause to reflect upon them. Not only that but the climactic fight on the not-quite-complete Tower Bridge could have been lifted from any action film and didn’t suit Sherlock Holmes.
It was good that the prologue wasn’t really just an open-and-shut case; of course, we don’t realize that for a time. The plot that Holmes embroils himself, which involves a secret society whose aim is so ludicrous that it raised the stakes to the point of disinterest and we really can’t feel any genuine panic as an audience because the aims of the criminals are so ludicrous and there is little to no reason to believe they can achieve said aims.
Oddly, it wasn’t the fighting in Sherlock Holmes that was most bothersome but the plotline and furthermore the execution thereof. For the sequel, which we know now will happen, perhaps the action can take a back seat and allow the detective work more than a few furtive minutes to make its impact.