I haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes yet, but I’ve seen way too many writers who ought to know better pitching the so-contrarian-its-now-CW line that Guy Ritchie’s transformation of Conan Doyle’s überrational sleuth into a two-fisted brawler is actually faithful to Conan Doyle’s original stories. After all, Holmes is described as being not just a skilled boxer, but a master of singlestick, fencing, and “baritsu.” In a few brief scenes over the course of of 56 short-stories and four novels, we even see him employ these skills.
It’s also true that in several of the Gospels, we get some version of a story in which a hungry Jesus gets pissed that a fig tree hasn’t grown any figs for him yet, and zaps it with Jesus-magic. But while I can imagine a cinematic adaptation where the Passion of the Christ turns out to be miraculous weed-whacking, it would be a Life-of-Brianesque farce, not a sincere attempt at interpretation.
There are, incidentally, all manner of allegorical readings of the fig tree story, but I’ve always liked the rather more straightforward one: That it really is an aberration, the point of which is to draw your attention to how aberrant it is. Let’s face it, you’d been bitten by a radioactive Holy Ghost, this is exactly how you’d use your divine abilities: You’d wither inanimate objects in fits of pique, sling Avada Kedavras at babies on planes, burst the heads of queue-cutters like eggs in a microwave, and generally act like the superpowered anime badass Jesus from that last Left Behind book. The fig story reminds you that Jesus could act this way, has all the emotional plumbing that would motivate him to act this way, but doesn’t act this way, because he’s Jesus, and you aren’t.
This is probably not the right way to read the Gospel story, but I do think it works for the Holmes stories. The rare fight scenes establish that merely physical challenges are no real challenge at all for Holmes: He wins his fights quickly and handily. Combat is just one more discipline he’s studied and mastered. But they also underscore, by their very rarity, that Holmes could be much more of an “action hero”—and chooses not to. He’s capable of throwing a punch with the best of them when it comes to that, but usually manipulates circumstances so as to render such crude displays unnecessary. Despite being an expert marksman, he typically relegates pistol-brandishing duty to Watson or the police, leaving him free to deliver witty remarks to their quarry.
I’ll still go see it, of course; by all accounts it’s a ripping yarn. But I’ll think of it as the story of a Victorian action hero who, by sheer coincidence, shares a name with that detective fellow.