Downey not soft
If you predicted the A-list actors of the future back in 2001, Robert Downey Jr. would not have been on that list. More likely, you’d put him at the top of your dead pool. But the $200 million domestic pull of Sherlock Holmes firmly establishes Downey as an A-lister, making his one of the most remarkable comeback stories in Hollywood history.
Always at the fringes of celebrity, Downey was hitting one low point after another by 2001. He did several stints in jail and rehab, got fired from Ally McBeal, and even scuttled Woody Allen’s first attempt to make Melinda and Melinda, when he was deemed uninsurable (although the real tragedy is that Allen made a second attempt).
Downey cleaned up after his last arrest in 2001 and started delivering good performances in movies that nobody saw (The Singing Detective, A Scanner Darkly) before getting his shot with Iron Man. It isn’t much of a movie, but it delivered a new jolt of personality to a superhero genre that forced even the manic Michael Keaton to go stoic.
Remarkably, Downey came through his troubles without any dent to his likability—people didn’t even mind when he sold out! Part of the appeal is that Downey’s life is woven into his characters. Much like his Tony Stark, Downey’s Sherlock Holmes is a flawed and self-destructive man redeemed by his work, an obvious metaphor for the disparity between Downey’s off-screen struggles and on-screen talent.
Downey deserves credit for bringing his bizarre rakishness intact into big-budget actioners like Sherlock Homes, so who’s to blame for throwing it out the window after the first act in favor of an insipid story, egregious miscasting and the worst CGI on record?
I’m just going to blame Guy Ritchie. It’s easier, and who would argue?