The Snarky Victorian is happy to have Stevie Miller guest reviewing a steampunk-influenced Victorian flick this week: "Sherlock Holmes," starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Enjoy!
Sherlock Homes: The Case of the Steampunk Film Review
Entertaining and exciting, Sherlock Holmes (2009) offers Holmes as an action hero and not just an intellectual. Robert Downey Jr. gives a superb performance in the title role, showing us a Holmes who is brilliant, obsessively observant, a bit mad, and an all-around badass.
What are you in for when you see this film? Expect top-notch scenery, costuming, props, and music—and enough good things cannot be said about the music. Hans Zimmer’s score combines a distinctly British cultural flavor with a dark undercurrent appropriate for London’s back-alleys, then weaves it all together with Holmes’ trademark violin. A few clever transitions are used between Holmes plucking at his violin strings and the music in the score to draw this connection without slowing down the plot to make the audience sit through a recital.
What’s really going to polish your goggles in this movie, though, is the amazing banter between Holmes and Watson. This Watson, affectionately referred to as “Hotson” by the crew, is an updated version of Holmes’ sidekick, played by Jude Law. This Watson is no portly or slow old fellow who plods along cheering for Holmes’ every deduction. He’s a witty, sharp-dressed, former military man who won’t take any crap from his longtime friend. The lines Downey Jr. and Law toss effortlessly to one another are sharp, subtle, and brilliantly timed. You’ll spend half the movie laughing—if you’re clever enough to keep up with those two.
With all the good, there must be a bit of bad. That unfortunately comes in the form of Irene Adler, played by Rachel McAdams, Holmes’ former lover and ongoing obsession. Where Holmes and Watson are throwing witty barbs by the dozens, something just doesn’t quite work between Adler and Holmes. The first time they meet in the film, McAdams seems a bit off, even shy, next to Downey Jr., and there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between the two.
Things pick up a bit in the next scene, as Holmes follows Adler through the back alleys of London, and says to himself “There’s the Irene I remember,” as she shows a bit of spunk. The problem is the actual interaction between Adler and Holmes. Is this really the only woman to be Holmes’ intellectual equal? She just can’t seem to hold her own with him. Compare this to the restaurant scene with Holmes, Watson, and Mary, Watson’s girlfriend (played by Kelly Reilly), where she proves herself more than able to handle what the detective dishes out.
What does this film have to offer Steampunks? There’s a lot of delicious Victorian aesthetic to be had in the setting, costuming, language, and mannerisms. You’ll have a jolly good romp through a very realistic old London, along with a smattering of “SCIENCE!” in the form of a couple laboratories and some early versions of biological weapons.
On the flip side, this film doesn’t have some elements that would traditionally classify it as Steampunk. Arthur Conan-Doyle isn’t typically grouped with the “founding fathers” of Victorian science fiction that comprise Steampunk’s forebears. Realistic and rational like its hero, this movie doesn’t contain any outright magic, fantasy, or overly-stretched science—at least, not any that isn’t revealed by our favorite detective by the end.
That said, this film does a great job of getting into Holmes’ head and showing us—not telling us—how he thinks. You’ll see his hyper-awareness, peculiar mood-swings, and what he gets up to in his off-hours. While not all of these elements are necessarily part of the original Holmes fiction, they do provide a very interesting individual to get to know and follow around. The bottom line? You will have a jolly good time watching this movie. Smashing!
Stevie Miller is a writer, artist, gardener, and Steampunk enthusiast who has an inexplicable affection for cephalopods. You can find her serialized Steampunk adventure, Society for the Promotion of Tentaclebeasts.