Alex Reviews Mr Holmes - There's No Sh*t In This Sherlock

Ian McKellen's aged detective is phenomenal.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… Central to Mr Holmes, an exploration of the twilight years of Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective is the distinction between bees and wasps. It's a smart choice, and not only because the differences are the sort of subtleties that it would take Sherlock himself to pick up on. In the world the film presents, Sherlock Holmes is real, his adventures documented in fictional novels by Dr Watson, aside from one final case that sent him into forced exile. He now lives on the Cornish coast, caring for bees while trying to recall the details of what exactly caused his retirement. Throughout it all there's a frustration at the fictitious hero Watson presented - a deer-stalker wearing, pipe-smoking intellectual - a meta send-up of how popular culture as misconstrued the character as originally presented by Conan Doyle. There you have the wasp to the real Holmes' bee; as much as the stories here are based in truth, he repeatedly bemoans how they don't actually show the real him. Except that's not actually the case. As Holmes himself reveals in the second act, he adjusted his personality in reaction to what Watson wrote, making himself more distinct, meaning the "real" him is a mixture of the legend and the front he puts up in defence. Man or myth? Wasp or bee? The real identity lies somewhere in the middle. So yes, this is another new take on the well-trodden material. It feels like the only way to do Sherlock Holmes in the modern age is to do some revisionist twist on the original idea, a straight adaptation feeling antiquated fare akin to Miss Marple. Thankfully, Mr Holmes is the freshest of the lot; its changes are not needlessly revisionist (a female Watson in Elementary), there's no excessive pandering to a mainstream audience (something Robert Downey, Jr.'s admittedly fun version did) and it doesn't overstay its welcome (like BBC's Sherlock, whose third season was a Tumblr-baiting mess).
Comparing Bill Condon's film (which almost makes up for his terrible work on Twilight: Breaking Dawn) to its similarly inspired contemporaries feels rather apt given the film's focus on the very nature of storytelling. I'd hoped a film featuring a mentally deteriorating Holmes dealing with his own legacy would look at how the narrator and their perspective affect how a tale is told and I wasn't disappointed. Throughout the story there's various representations of the central mystery, but each new take reveals more about the person telling it than what actually happened. Even without that element though, Mr Holmes still has a brilliant ace; its star. Ian McKellen joins the ranks of the countless great actors to play the sleuth and stands as one of the most unique. He doesn't get much time to actually be on the case, but the bits he is put great focus on that obsessive deduction. For the majority of the film Holmes a 93 year-old man and, aided slightly by very convincing make-up, McKellen sells it completely. Frail and breathing heavily, he's not only a man losing track of himself mentally, but also physically, which lends a sombre undercurrent to proceedings; there's a sense of lost time but only the vague hints of acceptance. A key relationship between Holmes and the son of his housekeeper, however, provides a light counter to this, making sure the film winds up being uplifting. Where the film falls down is its mystery. The solution to the final case is rather basic, and got to in too few steps, while a second, Japanese-inspired sub-plot (which bizarrely sees Sherlock visit Hiroshima) doesn't feel totally relevant. Of course, that's only a major issue if you've come in expecting the typical detective yarn. Mr Holmes is more about the nature of memory and how it affects our individual identity. It's still a great Sherlock film, but also manages to be so much more. What did you make of Mr Holmes? Agree with this review? Share your thoughts down in the comments.
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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.