Have the purists who self-righteously reject the idea of Sherlock Holmes as an action hero actually read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, or are they just working off the pop-culture image of a wiry, effete man with a magnifying glass stuck to his face? And regardless, why must anyone treat Doyle’s stories as sacrosanct? They’re pulp (influential pulp, but pulp nonetheless) featuring a flat, static protagonist—a protagonist who is described, by the way, as an expert at boxing and fencing and who also ably dispatches his foes with a cane and riding crop. So I really don’t see why anyone should be annoyed by Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes getting into a few fistfights in between deductive reasoning.
If you want to bent out of shape about the movie’s lack of fidelity to its source material, the better target would be the affectionate, congenial relationship between Holmes and Watson. In Doyle’s stories, Holmes is perpetually rude and condescending, treating Watson less as a friend than as a tiresome lackey. When I read the stories as a kid, I never understood why Watson would put up with Holmes, but their friendly rapport is the best thing about director Guy Ritchie’s new movie. As Watson, Jude Law gives his most charming performance in a decade, and Downey is as charismatic as always. Together they have great chemistry, making the movie far funnier and more entertaining than it would be otherwise. Screw fidelity—the truly un-Doylian elements of Sherlock Holmes are the only things that make it worth watching.