Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his trusty companion, Dr. Watson (Jude Law) discover the menacing Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) about to sacrifice a young virgin in a satanic ritual. They apprehend him and Blackwood is sentenced to death, only to be later spotted walking the streets of London, his tomb broken upon from the inside. Is Blackwood now operating from beyond the grave, or is there more to the case than meets the eye?

Audiences expecting to see Sherlock Holmes don his Deerstalker and pore over clues with a magnifying glass are in for a shock. Guy Ritchie’s new film incarnation of the famous London-based detective is as much a scrapper and a brawler as he is the superior intellect famed for his logic-based deductions. He is eccentric, shambolic and prone to moping dejectedly around his Baker Street town house, experimenting on his long-suffering dog, when not partaking in illegal boxing matches.

Those who know Ritchie as more than just the former Mr. Madonna, will know he has spent the past decade spinning intertwining yarns of gangsters, hustlers and small-time crooks in the less than glamorous underworld of the English capital. After being heralded as “the British Tarantino” with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and its follow-up Snatch, it seems Ritchie’s pretensions took over, and he has since failed to produce anything close to those early accomplishments.

In Sherlock Holmes, however, Ritchie is back at his best, recreating Victorian London as a gloomy labyrinth of cobbled streets, open sewers and fog-choked alleys. Capitalising on the booming Industrial Age of the period, the film establishes a setting that is part steampunk action fantasy, part supernatural detective yarn, playing on Ritchie’s kinetic visual style to winning effect.

The real treat in Sherlock Holmes, however, comes from the performances, in particular the inspired pairing of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. They play Holmes and Watson as associates who have been together so long their friendship has evolved, or rather devolved, into a shamelessly co-dependant bond, closer to a marriage than a professional partnership. This comes to a head when Watson announces his engagement, provoking Holmes to sabotage the union with more enthusiasm and vitriol than he ever applies to apprehending the newly resurrected Blackwood. Their constant bickering and playful jibes produce many of the film’s best, and funniest, moments, in between all the fighting, chasing and crime solving.

Between them, Downey, Law and Ritchie have created a surprisingly entertaining romp through 19th century London, blending humour and action with just a dash of the supernatural to largely winning effect. The pacing is occasionally uneven and the plot makes increasingly little sense as it goes on, but the multitudes of naysayers who proclaimed the project a disaster the moment it was announced, should be pleasantly surprised.

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