Guy Ritchie announces himself as director widening his gaze and moving away from the genre he defined in the years around the millennium.  Without straying far from his roots (London, crime and mockney accents), he has made a film that marks him as a director to watch again.

It is no surprise that the London Ritchie has created is more realistic than a Victorian lithograph.  Every scene bursts with period detail and the cinematography of Tim Burton stalwart Philippe Rousselot is a delight, bringing smoggy London to life.  From the under-construction Tower Bridge to the almost steampunk devices, it is clear that meticulous planning has gone into this world.

However, the stars of the movie are easily its greatest attraction.  Downey Jr and Law spark off against each other like, well like Holmes and Watson should.  As promised, Downey Jr’s Holmes is rawer, leaner and more eccentric than we’ve seen before.  Watson, too, is revamped for a new century; he is strong and loyal but he also has his own life.  In a brave decision by the screenwriters the film begins as he is about to end the famous partnership.  This is not Conan Doyle’s Holmes; this is the cinematic Holmes and it works.

It is a shame then that Holmes’ support aren’t so fully realised.  McAdams is charming as Irene Adler but her relationship with the plot is too elusive.  At times, she guides the action too readily by fortune. 

The film also suffers from the attention paid to setting up Holmes and Watson’s relationship.  The result is a fantastic series of set pieces that never quite merge into a strong narrative.   The mystery is far from unsolvable and the final plan strains credulity.  It is a credit to both that this never detracts from the sparring between Holmes and Mark Strong’s villainous Lord Blackwood. 

Ritchie’s victory comes when he holds back his strongest hand.  He draws on the legend and history of Holmes in setting up an ongoing franchise.  Irene Adler’s inclusion alone would justify this, but it’s the shadowy presence behind the scenes that steals the show.

The result is a movie that sets up but will not define a franchise.  The strength of the character and overall tone parallel the Nolan Batman series.  With the cast on board for a second outing, is it too much to hope for The Elementary Knight next?