Do you remember when “Batman Begins” came out? Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan took a fairly cheesy, misguided franchise and returned it to its gritty roots. They examined the darker side of the dark knight and investigated Bruce Wayne’s ninjutsu background. What resulted was an impressive, martial arts laden movie series that experienced great success.

We may be seeing something similar with Robert Downey Jr’s “Sherlock Holmes” (coming out this December).

Based off of the classic texts by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Watson), Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler), and director Guy Ritchie are attempting to put a new spin on the franchise. Although the old movies, comic books, etc have been well received, Downey thinks that they are a bit unfaithful to the original character concepts and believes that this latest rendition faithfully captures both the intellect and physicality of Sherlock Holmes.

Check out this interview where Downey (after putting on a little bit of the ham-attitude that he likes to do), talks about the tougher martial arts aspects of his character:

As someone who has never read the books, I was surprised and elated to learn that Holmes had a combative background. Curious as to what exactly he studied, I ventured into Wikipedia for the answer:

“In ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’, Holmes recounts to Watson how he used martial arts to overcome Professor Moriarty and fling his adversary to his death at the Reichenbach Falls. He states that ‘I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.’ The name ‘baritsu’ appears to be a reference to the real-life martial art of bartitsu.” – wikipedia

Bartitsu is a historically established style created by Edward William Barton-Wright, who combined classic jujutsu, judo, savate, cane fighting, and western style boxing.

I wondered how this ‘new approach now integrated with martial arts’ might look, so I investigated a little further and found the official movie preview:

It comes quick, but you can definitely catch some hand-to-hand action and even a little Escrima stick fighting ala Rambo 3. Whether the Escrima has any textual precedence or not I don’t know. I think it can be assumed that they took liberties and hyped up the action for cinematic purposes.

The style and presentation of the movie definitely sets the stage for a grittier, more “real-world” Holmes. If done right, Guy Ritchie has the opportunity to create a remarkable mix of action and intrigue.

Personally, I’m excited for the movie. If they can learn the lessons of “Batman Begins”, use Downey’s natural humor and talent, and tell a compelling story, I think they could kick off an extremely successful franchise.