Correct the million misconceptions...
I look side-eye at you, Mr. Holmes. Yes I do.
Generally, the film is beautifully shot and acted (though I also side-eye you, Mr. Condon, for all the 180 degree establishing shots that zoom in on the focal character. It's a nice trick, but felt a bit annoying the third or fourth time, especially since it's mostly there to be a nice trick, as far as I could tell, and had no thematic purpose). I didn't love any of the characters, but I didn't hate them either.
Fundamentally, though, this film and the book it is adapted from are written by people who think Sherlock Holmes is a destructive fantasy. A friend of mine has said that Sherlock Holmes is an Enlightenment, rationalist fantasy. He is the dream that man, by his reason, can understand, control, and perhaps better the world he lives in.
Mr. Holmes looks at that vision and finds it terrible.
As a Christian, I believe that this world ultimately doesn't make complete sense, because it's broken. I love detective fiction because it pries at that fact - a crime has been committed, a murder, a theft, something is out of harmony, and the detective's whole reason to exist is to attempt to restore that harmony. Because the world itself is broken, full restoration is impossible - but I believe a good detective novel should end with a measure of harmony restored.
This film looks at the entire construction of Sherlock Holmes, man of reason, science, passion for justice, loyal friend - and finds him insufficiently interesting to write a story about. Instead, they construct a semi-realistic world in which Holmes has to react to his friend's fictionalization of him (an interesting conceit that isn't fully realized, sadly). He smilingly contradicts the "million misconceptions" about himself - the deerstalker, the pipe (digression - I think McKellan's anti-smoking views might have influenced the film here, as Holmes doesn't smoke once in the entire film), even the deductions are all revealed to be fantasy.
In the end, the film decides that fiction is better than reality if it lets people connect with each other rather than be alone. Sadly, I do not believe connection can be based upon a lie, so it falls flat for me. So, despite lovely performances from McKellan and Linney, a fine child acting performance, and the always radiant Hattie Morahan as the woman who shapes the last three decades of Holmes's life despite only speaking to him for a quarter of an hour, the film will not make a very significant dent in the Holmesian legend. It rejects the elements that make Sherlock Holmes popular without telling a particularly compelling story to take their places. The fine character work doesn't make up for the many missed thematic opportunities, and the general air of the production is handsome, but distant. There's no true love for the source material or the community which loves it here, and I think that will tell against it in the shadow it will fail to cast.