Sherlock Holmes is a profoundly dumb movie.

As someone who adores the mystery genre above nearly all else, I was at first very excited to hear that there was going to be a new Sherlock Holmes film, then profoundly disappointed to discover that it was going to be directed by Guy Ritchie. An entertaining filmmaker, Ritchie is known for making violent, energetic, mildly humourous films. Sadly, among all the adjectives one might employ to describe his films, I doubt the term ‘intellectually stimulating’ has ever come up.

If one were looking for proof of this theory, you’d need look no farther than the film ‘Revolver’, which is a prime example of what happens when a dullard attempts to write a con film.

So I was a little wary at the prospect of him directing a film about the world’s greatest detective. Other than Batman, of course. As I watched the film today I discovered that my fears were well-founded.

While it may seem like I’m about to unfairly criticize an action film for not being a mystery, that’s not my intent. My problem with the film is that it does such a poor job of demonstrating Sherlock Holmes’ supposedly mammoth intellect.

That there are no clues offered to the audience is neither particularly unfair, nor is it untrue to the source material. The Holmes stories were largely not written to be ‘solvable’ mysteries. Information largely isn’t given to the reader in enough detail that they’re able to draw conclusions of their own – the technique most commonly employed is for Holmes to list a series of details or pieces of evidence, then explain what they mean when considered together. The reader isn’t supposed to know the answer, they’re supposed to be impressed by the reasoning that Holmes displays.

Which is why ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (the film, although it’s true of the character as well) is such a profound failure. It doesn’t capture the fun of watching Holmes figure out a complex mystery, because he’s never confronted with a problem with a problem worthy of his intellect. Or, again, purported intellect – he displays House-style quirks and personality disorders, but very little in the way of crime-solving abilities.

Consider each of the three central mysteries of the film: 1 – How did Blackwood fake his death? 2 – How did he assassinate his victims using seemingly magical powers? C – Who else was complicit in his schemes?

Each of them ought to be a satisfyingly difficult mystery for Holmes to solve, but they’re written in such a way that he doesn’t need to do the slightest bit of work to figure them out.

Look at the first problem – Watson’s reputation is on the line, since he pronounced Blackwood dead, and this statement proved to be extremely premature. At the film’s climax there’s a little explanation that Blackwood bribed the executioner to attach a hook to a harness, and then took a drug to lower his heartrate to the point where it was undetectable.

There’s a problem with this solution, though – even Holmes’ explanation makes Watson look like an incompetent idiot. A supposed medical doctor, he pronounced Blackwood dead solely on the basis that he was unable to find a pulse on the man’s neck or wrist. He doesn’t put a mirror up to Blackwood’s nostrils to search for a faint breath, nor does he find it suspicious that Blackwood’s neck shows no sign of having been broken, nor is there any of the torn skin and bruising that would be present if he’d slowly strangled to death. No, Watson is presented with an essentially unharmed corpse and he signs off on it without giving it anything more than the most cursory investigation imaginable.

Then there’s the mysterious deaths that surround Blackwood’s return. First his father drowns, and then a rival member of the fake Freemasons explodes into flame when he attempts to kill the lord. Now these should have laid the groundwork for some brilliant investigation and deduction on Holmes’ part. Except he never has to figure anything out – the solutions are handed to him in the most patently obvious manner imaginable.

Instead of being forced to carefully study clues at the crime scenes and piece together their meaning, Holmes is literally handed the solution to every mystery. You see, all of Blackwood’s miracles were made possible because he had a mad scientist on his payroll, developing elaborate methods of murder based on the principles of galvanism and inflammability. This would be the exact sort of character that Holmes should be pitted against in a battle of wits, but it’s hamstrung by the fact that the mad scientist is already dead as the main action of the film begins, leaving him unable to compete in anything other than a staring contest.

Although he’d be great at one of those, I’m sure.

It’s in the next scene that the ‘mystery’ portion of the film completely falls apart. Straight after discovering the mad scientist’s corpse they head over to his lab, where they discover not vague clues or subtle hints about his plans, but rather complete experiments, neatly laid out and easy to understand. All that’s left is for Sherlock to wait for such complicated elements as ‘a paralyzing agent’ and ‘a scentless liquid that’s extremely flammable’ to be used in murders, which they quickly are.

While the lengths that the mad scientist went to in order to devise these murders were long and difficult, the uncovering of same is anything but. Because Holmes gets a good look at the finished product, he knows exactly what to expect – to the point that he really ought to warn the three most likely targets of the manner in which they’re probably going to get murdered.

He doesn’t bother doing this, however, choosing instead keep his mouth shut until his theories are confirmed by the deaths of two relatively innocent men.

I haven’t even touched on the most preposterous part of the entire ‘mad scientist’s lab’ sequence of the film. While Holmes and Watson are looking for, well, not clues exactly, obvious solutions, I guess, they’re interrupted by a team of ruffians who arrive intending to burn the lab to the ground, so that Blackwood can execute his murders without interference from any random people who might happen to see the lab and therefore know exactly what his plan was.

What’s so preposterous about this? We’ll later learn that the same three ruffians murdered the mad scientist in that lab one day earlier, long before anyone knew of his connection to Blackwood. So why didn’t they burn his lab to the ground then? For just one reason – so that Holmes would be able to walk into it later and have the obvious solution to the crime slap him in the face.

The solution to the third ‘mystery’ is perhaps the most insulting, since the audience is let in on the information that the Home Secretary is evil almost immediately. Why is this insulting? Because the writers were unable to come up with a clever way for Holmes to know he was involved in all the murders. He could have gone with ‘process of elimination’ – after all, in order for Blackwood to easily get in and out of Freemason buildings he had to have someone on the inside, and two of the three heads of the London chapter are immediately killed, while the third doesn’t seem overly fearful for his life. So I’d set my sights on that guy, were I a detective.

How does Holmes figure it out, then? He recognizes the villain’s shoes as being similar to those worn by one of the masked men at the last murder. This is all well and good save for a fairly major mistake on the part of the costumer-

The shoes in question are the most generic pair of wing-tips imaginable. I personally have two pair of shoes that are indistinguishable from the ones in the film, and I’m not even a cabinet minister!

Seriously, similar shoes are the best the writers could do? This should have been a scene where Holmes displays his mastery of observation, explaining how he was able to tell everything he needed to know about the killer from the way he turned and walked off into a tunnel. Height, weight, military service (from the gait and spotlessness of his shoe shine), what hand he favoured – the key moment of any Sherlock Holmes narrative is when he pulls all these elements together to reveal the identity of the culprit.

Instead all we get is a set of generic god-damn shoes.

Man, they’d better get a higher class of writer working on the next movie. It’s building up to the confrontation with James Moriarty, and at this rate we’re not likely to get anything more mentally challenging than watching the two of them playing a game of three-card monte.

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