Film Review: Mr Holmes

Currently Hollywood loves the comic book and every character imaginable is being rolled out into a franchise. But to ensure we never lose sight of those who lead the way, and to keep them fresh, we’re being treated to their “origin story”. A simple idea of taking a well loved and popular character and instead of unleashing them again in another formulaic adventure that would get lost in the saturated genre they now inhabit, we are given their background, their beginnings. Telling us how they came to be, showing us the person behind the mask as it were.

Recent examples include: Batman, Spiderman, The X-Men and even James Bond and whilst origin stories are traditionally kept to the superhero genre, as Bond showed, the trend is starting to leak out into the surrounding subsets and the latest attempt to expand a well loved character out beyond their natural territory, is slightly surprisingly, Sherlock Holmes. With the post investigatory mumblings of Mr Holmes.

Sir Ian McKellen (Old Sherlock) - Mr Holmes

The idea is simple, set 30 years after his last case when Sherlock has retired to keep bees and slide into confused retirement the film stars Sir Ian McKellen as the great detective himself. The film is constructed to show us McKellen as the 93 year old Holmes struggling with life while tormented by the particulars of his last case and as a result, flirts back in time to show McKellen working the case as the glossy detective we know so well. And this causes the films first problem.

The case Holmes is investigating just makes no sense. I couldn’t understand why he was involved. It appeared to be a simple case of depression and a therapist or doctor would be more use than Holmes. I have always imagined Holmes as a policemen, investigating crime and yet, there is no crime here, he takes a “case” which doesn’t exist. It completely destroyed that entire section of the film because I just didn’t understand what it was meant to portray.

I almost want to say thankfully, but that is too strong a word, the younger Holmes and the case form only small segments of the film. The majority of the time is spent with the older Sherlock and his bees and to be honest, I hated it even more. It just doesn’t feel even remotely like Sherlock Homes, the character is meant to be having the onset of apparent dementia, but rather than pitying the forgetfulness, clumsiness and collapse of a once great man, I just sat there disgusted and uneasy. I didn’t like the character he had become, and therefore, I didn’t want to spend time with him. I never trusted his motives simply finding him manipulative and vile.

Sir Ian McKellen (Young Sherlock) - Mr Holmes

Hating the character meant I was overly critical with McKellen as well. He plays both roles but his appearance is so wildly different that the two look completely unconnected. In his younger version he is every bit the standard image of Holmes: the clothes, posture and arrogance all instantly recognisable and all instantly repetitive. He could have been any actor playing Holmes in any film. Yet his older portrayal is so transformative that you cannot make any connection as to how he’s aged into this situation. A has not matured into B. McKellen is also wearing a false nose that is so out of proportion that it dominates his face in a detrimental and distracting way. He’s a fine actor but he just didn’t feel right for the role and even worse, I couldn’t help but feel  he looked to be giving “a performance”. That he was nothing more than being the character. You could almost see him mentally ticking off the lines and hitting the marks in his head as he treads the boards. The film as a whole, and McKellen especially, just felt too often like it forgot it was a camera and a not a theatre audience it was playing it.

My biggest problem with Mr Holmes is with the story itself though. There just isn’t one. It’s very slow and due to the lack of narrative clarity feels even longer. It not a case that you even believe that it’s simmering away, about to burst into life because it’s just a stagnant story in which nothing happens except your growing boredom. It’s obviously very early on that the film is about observing, quietly, and has nothing to say and as a result, I spent most of the film looking at my watch wondering exactly what I was suppose to find interesting in a story that never intended to go anywhere, have anything to say or even attempt to show you a personality.

221B Baker Street - Sherlock Holmes

I just cannot find anything to like because I never trusted the characters or felt interested in their lives. The film spends too like with a version of Holmes that seems far too at odds with stereotype you expect and visually too removed from the imagery you need. The idea of a back story to expand Sherlock Holmes was clever and should have given so much scope to create a wonderfully interesting and intriguing tale but they got the tone so wrong that they’ve ended up with a story that felt so far removed from 221B Baker Street that I actually wondering if it was originally written for Holmes, or whether, Holmes was shoe horned into it in an attempt to give it reason and help it sell.

It’s a film without redeeming feature, depth or emotion. It makes no sense, felt far too long and would have been better served as a shorter Sunday evening TV drama where a reduced running time would have forced the pace to increase, the narrative editing to be stricter and the demands to decrease.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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