By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The game’s afoot once more in "Sherlock Holmes" (Warner Bros.). But, though vigorous, this latest addition to the chronicles of perhaps the world’s most iconic sleuth — who first figured in a series of novels and short stories published between 1887 and 1927 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — is also frequently violent.
In fact, as envisioned by director Guy Ritchie, and slyly personified by Robert Downey Jr., this brawny Sherlock slugs his way through several bone-crunching square-offs across Victorian London on the way to solving his latest case.
Accompanied by his perennial sidekick, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), Holmes is on the trail of notorious Satan-worshipping aristocrat Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). But the investigation would seem to have reached a satisfactory conclusion within minutes of the opening credits when — after the pair interrupt Blackwood as he’s about to perform his latest ritual murder — the errant peer is safely incarcerated and duly sentenced to be hanged.
Inviting Holmes to visit him in jail on the eve of his execution, however, Blackwood predicts that he will rise from the dead, inspiring a wave of public panic that will have global political implications. And it soon appears as though Blackwood has made good on his threat when a graveyard watchman swears he saw the seemingly resurrected nobleman walk out of his tomb.
Though the mystery of Blackwood’s return is eventually teased out in typical Holmesian fashion, the initial idea of a black-magic resurrection may not sit well with some adult viewers and — taken together with its purely rationalistic solution — might be confusing for some more youthful ones.
But Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg’s collaborative script certainly makes no attempt to compromise Christian claims. And the logical deconstruction of Blackwood’s scheme can be read as showing the inability of the powers of darkness — or of those trying to draw on them — to imitate God’s supreme miracle.
Intriguingly, too, the dialogue includes a warning from the usually skeptical Holmes that Blackwood had better hope there’s nothing to Satanism, as the dilettante, the detective observes, has performed its various ceremonies flawlessly.
A further complication for Catholic audiences concerns Blackwood’s membership in a Masonic-style secret society dedicated to cultivating occult powers. Some of the members of this conventicle who oppose Blackwood argue that, unlike their misguided associate, they use such dark gifts to achieve good ends — an assertion, needless to say, wholly contrary to church teaching.
Heightening the tension of the central chase are subplots involving Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), the young lady for whom Watson has fallen and for whose sake he plans to abandon his work with Holmes and break up their bachelor household — a goal Holmes does his wily best to sabotage — and femme fatale Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), an adept criminal who plays both sides of the law and who has bested and befuddled Holmes in the past.
A scene in which Holmes visits Adler only to end up handcuffed to a headboard naked, with only a pillow for strategic cover — and his subsequent, easily misinterpreted request to a chambermaid to free him — is another clue suggesting a mature classification for this generally entertaining, but hard-bitten take on the legend of Baker Street’s most famous mythical resident.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The film contains considerable action violence, occult themes, satanic activity, brief irreverence, a sexual situation and a few sexual references and jokes. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.