The Sherlock Homes of literary legend “has never been much for physical violence,” says NY Times critic A.O. Scott. And Guy Ritchie, director of the corporation-serving, would-be tentpole movie Sherlock Homes, has never been much for “intelligence [in terms of his] interests or attributes as a filmmaker.” But here the twain meets…synergy!

“The chief innovation of this new, franchise-ready incarnation is that Robert Downey, Jr.‘s Holmes is, in addition to everything else, a brawling, head-butting, fist-in-the-gut, knee-in-the-groin action hero. In this vein Sherlock Holmes is kind of cool” and “intermittently diverting…but that’s not really a compliment.

“The visual style — a smoky, greasy, steam-punk rendering of Victorian London, full of soot and guts and bad teeth and period clothes — shows some undeniable flair. And so do the kinetic chases and scrapes that lead us through the city, as Holmes and his pal Watson (Jude Law) scramble to unravel a conspiracy so diabolical that it fails to be interesting.

“It seems that an evil aristocrat (Mark Strong), executed for a series of murders, returns from the dead to mobilize an ancient secret society that he may have time-traveled into a Dan Brown novel to learn about. Doesn’t that sound fascinating? I thought not.

“But there will be a sequel, for which this frantic, harmless movie serves as an extended teaser, and it looks as if it might feature Holmes’s literary archnemesis, Professor Moriarty. No doubt Holmes will break a chair over Moriarty’s head, kidney-punch him and kick him in the face. Wittily, though, like the great detective he is.”