The whole swashbuckling yarn is in fact very reminiscent of, and as enjoyable as, the first Pirates Of The Caribbean.
He may be a bit hit and miss, but as a director, Guy Ritchie has a distinct flair behind the camera, and it's put to good use in this rip-roaring adventure. Working for the first time from someone else's script - in this case four screenwriters took on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved detective - Ritchie proves himself more than capable out of his comfort zone.
Sherlock Holmes is completely reworked in the hands of Robert Downey Jr, who makes the in-demand detective a sozzled but sharp-witted egocentric, who exorcises his demons Fight Club-style. Complementing him is the loyal Dr Watson, with a straight-laced Jude Law the perfect sensible foil to Holmes' wild-eyed brainiac.
With Ritchie naturally making Holmes a fiercely physical sleuth, our introduction to this great mind is expertly executed in a craftily-shot fight scene, which leads to to his nemesis - Mark Strong's Dracula-like Lord Blackwood. A convoluted tale of satanic rituals leads to the inevitable Scooby Doo-like conclusion, but this romp is an excuse for a sequence of stunning action sequences, including a nail-biting and sickening near-miss in an abattoir. Things don't get too nasty though, ensuring the 12A rating.
In between, Holmes and Watson bicker, fight and make up, with the chemistry between the leads burning the screen. It's a good job there is a spark between Downey Jr and Law, to make up for the failed female characters. Rachel McAdams has proven herself to be a notable screen presence and a terrific comic actress, but she feels invisible as Holmes' former adversary (and love) Irene Adler, merely reduced to damsel in distress. Watson's long-suffering fiancée Mary is more of a personality, in the hands of a charming Kelly Reilly, but the women serve to enhance the bond between Holmes and Watson, with the scriptwriters wringing as much mischief out of the bromance as possible.
Sarah Greenwood's gorgeous production design is painstakingly detailed and the bleached colours on film - combined with Ritchie's love of grittiness - show a Victorian London more striking than you've ever seen. Good use is made of the Thames, with a half-built Tower Bridge and a shipyard providing yet more memorable scenes. The whole swashbuckling yarn is in fact very reminiscent of, and as enjoyable as, the first Pirates Of The Caribbean, aided by a vibrant score by Hans Zimmer matching the energy onscreen. Ritchie keeps it taut throughout, every scene filled with thrills and gusto, and it all looks stunning. Purists will scoff, but whether you are a fan of the character or not is irrelevant, as this take on Sherlock Holmes is a pure joy.