An action detective story reimagining of the famous British sleuth and his companion Watson as they battle the dark forces of Lord Blackwood who seeks to use black magic to take over the British government – or something like that, oh I don’t know, it hardly made sense.
The worldview of this story is naturalism, the belief that there is no supernatural and all effects have a natural cause. It’s thematic warfare is between the powers of reason and science (as embodied in Holmes’ acute power of observation) and the occult/mysticism/religion (as embodied in Blackwood’s occultic powers). Of course, all the black magic used by Blackwood is ultimately figured as sleight of hand tricks by Holmes, thus discrediting the supernatural as mere trickery. Blackwood is hung by the law at the beginning, but raises from the dead (an obvious reference to religion, um, let’s see, which religion has a man raising from the dead again?). He also engages in an occultic Rosicrucian like order that calls upon occultic powers, all of which have perfectly natural scientific explanations. In this story, the supernatural is an illusion, and we live in a closed universe of natural causes. It might have been a bit more interesting and indeed scientific, had there been something that remained beyond Holmes’ “amazing powers of observation” and acuity in describing the universe. I am thinking here of the movie Contact, where the scientist Ellie realizes a little about the limits of science and that love is real yet beyond her empirical measurements, and where the scientist ends up expressing a very real kind of religious faith and experience with science.
One way in which the movie shows the power of the mind is in its depiction of visualization technique. Every time Holmes is about to physically overcome an enemy, we see in his mind’s eye a slow motion version of what he is going to do, much like an athlete will visualize his action beforehand. And then we see the actual action in real speed, which gives a sort of double version of each fight scene, and affirms the power of the mind to actualize reality.