As someone who neither hungers for yet another incarnation of this character nor understands why anyone would, I watched in subdued bafflement.
The mystery subplot lacks the ingenuity of the greatest Holmes stories, but McKellen excels, switching effortlessly between the reclusive beekeeper with a faltering memory and the elegant younger detective at the height of his powers.
It's a gripping little tale, to be sure, but it's more than that. Somewhere in its tangle of timelines, false starts, and red herrings is a great truth about the unsolvable mystery of the human soul.
Even those who've read the book can be startled by what happens in Mr. Holmes, while they're being moved by McKellen in a role he's come to late, but with his customary elegance.
[An] intriguing if only semi-satisfying Sherlockian enterprise.
The best of it, as in Condon's other movies, are the details of emotions, fleeting but just as quickly caught - true concern camouflaged by flashes of impatience, unutterable despair masquerading as simple grief.
Mr. Holmes adds another version of the beloved character to the Sherlock canon; less a mystery solved than a character explored, fascinating in many small ways thanks to superb work from McKellen.
McKellen is masterful, in a multilayered tale that navigates the no man's land between memory and fiction.
It's a fairly compelling tale, but the intrigue we expect of a Holmes story is conspicuously lacking, even with three different mysteries unfurling onscreen.