[ Book-watching ] Sherlock Holmes is kind of an asshole

I have a confession that will likely knock me down several literary pegs: I’ve never read a single Sherlock Holmes story.

Now, that isn’t to say that I’m totally ignorant on the subject. I’ve watched the newest BBC re-visioning of the character, sat through several lectures on him in college lit courses, and–of course–pretty much have the Wishbone episode of “The Hounds of Baskerville” memorized. But as far as actually picking up the source material, I’ve just never really been interested.

But in order to fulfil my book-watching duties for Game of Shadows, the most recent installment of the Robert Downey  Jr. version of the character, I decided to suck it up and grab a recording of  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes off Audible. I only made it about halfway through the third story before I came to the follow conclusion: Sherlock Holmes is kind of a pretentious dick.

“Well duh,” says my roommate when I unveil this revelation. “That’s sort of the point of the character. He’s wicked smart and not afraid to show off his brains.”

“But he’s a jerk!” I counter. “How did he get to be such a popular heroic character?”

“Because everyone loves a smartass.”

That I definitely could disagree with. And it explains why I like the visual versions of Holmes more. I don’t like my literary characters being smart-mouthed unless they regularly pay for such lip (see: Harry Dresden). With Holmes, it appears that he can be smart allecky as can be and never pay a price (note: as I’ve only actually listened to one-tenth of one book, this assumption may be very, very wrong). Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed Game of Shadows so much; every punch Holmes received was well-deserved.

Game of Shadows picks up not too terribly long after the events in the first film, but much has changed.  Holmes is tipping farther into the land of manic genius as he tries to unravel the person behind the rash of terrorist bombings that have taken place throughout London and other major cities in Europe.  Enter Professor Moriarty, played wonderfully by Jared Harris, who sets into motion a frantic trip around Europe to not only stop the continent from going to war, but also save what Holmes holds most dear: namely a highly perturbed Dr. John Watson.

One of the biggest complaints from the original movie was the Holmes was far too much of an action hero. Purists (chief among them being Canary the First) wanted their Holmes to be just as he was in the books: battling only with brains and never with fists. That makes for fairly boring cinema. However, I feel as though director Guy Ritchie took some of the braying to heart. There are more sequences of Holmes precisely dissecting a fight before it happens, filmed through neat slow-motion shots while Holmes gives a running internal dialogue of his predicted moves. The mystery in this film is also much more complex than the first, giving Holmes more time to shine as the brainiac he is.

There were times, though, when this giant mystery seemed to overwhelm the film. Part of what made the first movie so enchanting was the narrow focus–one case that never took the pair outside of London. The gallivanting trip across countries made for an awful lot of continual rehashing and re-positioning of plot that made a good chunk of the story seem like mere check marks on a list. Plot pieces didn’t always surface seamlessly; sometimes they had to be jerked full force into the light so that Holmes and Watson could move on to their next port of call.

That said, the movie was great fun. Jude Law’s Watson in particular was highly entertaining, with his dry humor and logic offering the perfect foil to Holmes insanity. Robert Downey Jr. is still the perfect casting for the role of Holmes (regardless of what Canary the First may think), striking just the right balance between crazy and gifted. And he’s still definitely an asshole. But at least he gets punched for it.

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Happy Birthday, Holmes! (Born January 6, 1854)

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