"Robert Downey Jr. is his irrepressibly likable self and cast well as Holmes – a wise-cracking, fast-talking intellectual with just the right amount of reckless arrogance"

Guy Ritchie had initial success with cockney gangster films, Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) After that, things rolled rapidly downhill with his subsequent offerings (Swept Away, Revolver) utterly panned by critics. Even RocknRolla (2008), a so called return to form was a lacklustre retread of familiar material.

So can his latest film, a reboot of the Sherlock Holmes franchise, redeem him?  In a word: yes.  Sherlock Holmes is a fast paced and exciting action romp and largely avoids the cliché and cockney-geezer patois of his previous films.

We’re immediately thrust into the action: Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) arrive just in time to interrupt a sinister ritual killing by Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong).  Blackwood is reputed to have occult powers and his subsequent execution and apparent rise from the dead shortly afterwards strikes fear into Victorian London. 

Watson is keen to dissolve his partnership with Holmes and settle down for a quiet family life with his fiancée (Kelly Reilly), the Blackwood case supposedly being his last, but he reluctantly joins Holmes on his quest to track down Lord Blackwood a second time and put an end to his dastardly machinations.  Holmes is also romantically and professionally conflicted when it turns out a beautiful woman from his past, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), is involved somehow in the plot.

When it was announced that Sherlock Holmes was to be a bare-knuckle boxer, and all round action hero, it was hard not to raise at least one eyebrow – had the world’s greatest detective been co-opted as an English John Maclane?

The result is surprisingly good fun.  The pace is kept taut and includes several excellent fight scenes where Holmes works out the precise places to strike opponents in slow motion and then follows them through at full speed afterwards, which will have you grinning in your seat.

The central mystery of Lord Blackwood is intriguing and will keep you guessing right till the end.  Many things that Holmes notices are prominently placed in the audience’s field of view, so if you’re canny, you can spot what seemingly innocent background items will become significant later but this in no way detracts from the ingenuity of Holmes’ deductions. If anything, we could have done with more of this; there’s far too much emphasis on things exploding and not enough focus on Holmes’ brilliant mind.

Robert Downey Jr. is his irrepressibly likable self and cast well as Holmes – a wise-cracking, fast-talking intellectual with just the right amount of reckless arrogance.  Surprisingly, Jude Law delivers a performance which is not utterly wooden and the chemistry and banter he shares with Downey Jr. is frequently hilarious.  Mark Strong is as ever excellent; his physical presence (a jaw that could double as an anvil) and stentorian voice give some real menace and gravitas to the sinister Lord Blackwood.

However, Sherlock Holmes is hamstrung by several things which mar an otherwise enjoyable film.  It’s at least 20 minutes too long and the film drags noticeably when Holmes and Watson aren’t on screen together.  Additionally the Adler character is also completely superfluous – she could have been removed entirely at absolutely no detriment to the plot and her purpose just seems to be to offer some eye candy in the male dominated cast.  And for every witty piece of banter between Watson and Holmes there’s dialogue which is clunky and wooden (particularly from Blackwood himself, who often sounds like a pantomime villain).

These blemishes aside, Sherlock Holmes is still an enjoyable action/adventure and a worthy reboot of the franchise.  It’s a rapidly paced, funny popcorn movie and shows that Guy Ritchie has got a few tricks up his sleeve yet.

Sherlock Holmes (12A) is released on December 26.