Mr Holmes comes with a magnificent cast, above all, of course, Ian McKellen as aging Holmes, trying to battle his dementia. Thinking about your fictional heroes aging is always hard but Holmes having to cope with losing his sharp mind is something that is particularly painful to watch. And McKellen gives an amazing performance. Well, he does so in the scenes where the script lets him and isn’t busy with one of the countless other side-plots that go on.
Holmes doesn’t only battle his fading memory. He also has a ‘cheerful boy touches the heart of grumpy old man’-thing going on with Roger, the son of his housekeeper Mrs. Munro. Meanwhile, Roger learns that his mother wants what is best for him and she has to accept that Roger is old enough to know what he wants and what he doesn’t want. Then there is the past mystery that Holmes wants to unravel (again), which results in him having to accept something else.
And because that’s still not enough there’s a sub-plot about Holmes traveling to Japan (like the mystery, it’s told through several flashbacks, unlike the mystery it makes zero sense to do so). During that trip, he also passes through Hiroshima and sees the destruction there. This scene that’s important because…this is a Serious Movie about Serious Topics and we had to show it?
So, there is a lot going on and everything is only touched upon superficially. The housekeeper seems to hate Holmes and doesn’t want her son to spend time with him but the reasons for that stay vague. Holmes wouldn’t win an award for the most polite employer but that doesn’t explain her really strong aversion. Later in the movie, we get a reason why she wants to keep Roger away from him. It is even a good reason but it’s never brought up again because the movie is too busy with its countless other topics.
The storyline that suffers the most under the movies desire to talk about everything, however, is how Holmes deals with his dementia. It is the only thing that makes one believe that Holmes would abandon his logic and throw money at charlatans who promise to help him, which is exactly what he does at the beginning of the movie. And then he stops. Just like this. He shrugs, says that so far nothing has helped and thus this storyline is finished.
The whole disagreement between Holmes, Mrs. Munro and Roger has an equally unsatisfying conclusion, everybody just suddenly sees everybody else’s point of view, accepts it and forgives where necessary.
And then there is the matter of Watson and how the movie treats him.
It takes almost till the end till we learn what happened to him. And then we get a few sentences about how Watson never truly understood Holmes which is why they grew apart and Watson died without them talking to each other again. At this point, I wanted to hit the writer over the head with my Collected Sherlock Holmes hardcover.
It’s just such a complete misunderstanding of their relationship to me that it ruined what enjoyment I had left of the movie. Especially because there was no reason for that. Each of the approximately 24653 plotlines would still have worked if Holmes and Watson had parted as friends.
Overall, I had the feeling of having watched a movie written by someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy detective-stories and, therefore, felt the need to add more to make it interesting. Only that it achieved the exact opposite. The actual mystery Holmes had to solve was something else that worked really well and the mistake Holmes made the first time he tried to solve it was a very Holmesian mistake. But then, just like all the other things going on in the movie, it just gets a superficial treatment. Holmes shrugs, accepts that he has made a grave mistake and moves on.
In the end, the movie was just a waste of a great idea and amazing actors.