Even considering that Millie Bobby Brown — arguably one of Netflix’s most high-profile stars after she practically grew up on the platform — is the star and producer of a film that also featured Henry Cavill and Helena Bonham Carter, I was honestly pleased and surprised to see that Enola Holmes got a sequel. After all, Netflix is famously godawful at managing and promoting their own properties, most especially their cinematic properties. Plus, their track record for renewing beloved properties is maddeningly inconsistent, the company itself has seen no shortage of high-profile rough patches in recent years, there’s COVID throwing a perpetual wrench in everything, and Brown could very possibly age out of the role before she’s done with all the umpteen other projects she’s got in the pipeline.

But sure enough, Enola Holmes 2 is now live and streaming. And I’m pleased to report that true to my wishes, the sequel is on the whole even better than its prequel. The filmmakers did a genuinely good job of building on what made the first movie so enjoyable, while leaving the first movie’s biggest drawbacks woefully intact. Let’s take it from the top, shall we?

We open as Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) takes the step of opening her own business as a private investigator. It doesn’t go well. Indeed, nobody takes Enola seriously because she’s a teenage girl, she has no experience, she’s working in the shadow of her famous older brother, and it was Sherlock who got all the credit for the events of the first movie anyway. And just as Enola’s shutting down her fledgling business, in walks the first client in desperate need of her services.

Enter Bessie, played by Serrana Su-Ling Bliss. Bessie and her adoptive sister are match-girls, working on an assembly line manufacturing matchsticks for pennies a day. Only now, Bessie’s sister has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, thus Bessie asks for Enola’s help in tracking her down. The kicker is that this particular missing sister is Sarah Chapman, here played by Hannah Dodd.

If you’re up on your history of 19th century feminist protesters (and I expect that all of you are) you’ll recognize Sarah Chapman as the labor activist who led the matchgirls’ strike of 1888. As the film is VERY loosely based on that actual historical event, it should come as no surprise that this missing persons case quickly spirals out of control, involving murder, conspiracy, political corruption, crooked entrepreneurs, and so on. Moreover, where the previous film was focused on systemic misogyny and the cruel oppression of the patriarchy — mostly by way of women’s suffrage — this one maintains the same thematic focus by way of inhumane working conditions brought on by the Industrial Revolution.

On a more personal level, the first movie was very much about Enola taking control of her own narrative and asserting her own independence. (Remember, the girl’s name is literally “alone” spelled backwards.) With this movie, Enola is faced time and again with the dilemma of how to maintain her own identity and prove herself as a capable detective while accepting that she does occasionally need help. It’s a natural extension of the character’s development from the first movie, capably played by Brown. I might add that because the mystery’s subject is a missing person (as opposed to someone who constantly needs protection, and we’ll get to him later), Enola is kept front and center through the whole running time, without much of anything to distract from her inner conflict and her storyline.

And then of course we have the other characters to help drive the point home. Henry Cavill returns, once again playing a remarkably solid rendition of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock and Enola are both at their respective wit’s end as the both of them are stuck with cases they can’t seem to solve. Naturally, their two cases prove to be connected and thus the both of them must reluctantly stoop to asking each other for help. In fact, Enola remarks that Sherlock has a nasty habit of shutting himself off from everyone and it might do him some good to find a friend. Not only does this prove to be a neat bit of self-reflection that advances Enola’s arc, but it clearly and loudly sets up the arrival of a certain pivotal figure in the mid-credits stinger.

Speaking of recurring characters from the source material, I’m happy to say that Mycroft was benched and there’s no mention of that character’s godawful rendition from the first movie. Adeel Akhtar reprises Inspector Lestrade, once again playing the character quite capably as a blundering comic relief. Perhaps most importantly, this film introduces this particular franchise’s take on Moriarty. I’m rather ambivalent about this particular take on Sherlock Holmes’ most iconic archnemesis, as it feels like the filmmakers crafted a dark reflection of Enola rather than Sherlock. Which makes sense, as Enola’s supposed to be the one front and center in this franchise, but it feels wrong all the same. I guess we’ll know more if and when we get a third movie, as Moriarty doesn’t really do much of anything except tease at more appearances and greater involvement further down the line.

Moving on to the characters original to this franchise, I’m happy to report that Helena Bonham Carter and Susan Wokoma both return by way of a blockbuster chase scene. It’s important to note that as Enola’s two most prominent mother figures, they’re the only ones that Enola would listen to or accept any kind of help from. As such, they come in at just the right time to get our protagonist’s head on straight and the plot back on its rails. Kudos.

But then we have the return of Louis Partridge as the newly-minted Lord Tewkesbury. I’ve got mixed feelings about keeping this guy around. After all, we’re dealing with a highly episodic genre in which the clients of one mystery rarely play a part in the next episode. In the particular instance of Sherlock Holmes, the number of recurring side characters could be counted on one hand. Sherlock didn’t need a recurring love interest, I’m not convinced that Enola needs one, and putting a male love interest into such a female-driven feminist piece is a delicate proposition.

With all of that said, there’s definitely a place in any feminist picture for a character who can set an example as a feminist ally. Additionally, Tewkesbury is yet another character who is more than eager and capable of helping Enola, if only she didn’t keep driving him away in her misguided efforts at independence. Perhaps most importantly, both movies so far have kept their focus on deeply-rooted systemic issues, which is laudable. With Tewkesbury, we’ve got a character uniquely situated within the UK government, capable of giving us some manner of insight into what’s going on among the political elite and what can (not) be done to change anything from within government.

Patridge still looks like a dullard next to Bobby Brown, and Tewkesbury doesn’t really justify his own inclusion until the third act, but I guess I can live with him for now.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention David Thewliss, here playing the crooked police superintendent serving as our antagonist. He’s more or less playing a rerun of Burn Gorham’s character from the first movie: the cutthroat dedicated to upholding the status quo of old white men in power and so on and so forth. But Thewliss is a better fit for this particular role and he’s bringing some measure of personality to the part, so there’s that.

The mystery element works well enough. The clues are nicely laid out, the reveals are clever and well-timed. It was genuinely fun to watch Enola and Sherlock work their deductive skills. Best of all, this movie brought in a neat visual gimmick, visualizing Enola’s thoughts and speculations as an illustrated book with animated pages. (For those familiar with the Benedict Cumberbatch portrayal of Holmes, the book is more or less Enola’s version of the “mind palace.”) It’s clever and nicely done.

Unfortunately, as with the first movie, these filmmakers cannot present a halfway decent action scene to save their lives. From start to finish, the fight scenes and chase scenes are all pitifully shot and cut. The climax is by far the worst case in point — once again, we have a climax in a setting too dark and cluttered to see anything. What’s worse, Tewkesbury is in the climax even though he might as well not be, and Sherlock Holmes — the most badass detective/boxer/swordsman/marksman/Gary Stu in the world, as played by goddamn Superman — spends the whole climax getting his ass kicked. What the high holy fuck is this shit?!

That said, there were a few bright spots in the action set pieces. One of the reasons I liked the big chase sequence so much is because we spend half of it in a self-contained wagon with Enola and her mother, the both of them trying to talk through the case and find possible solutions while they’re tossing explosives and dodging bullet fire. Even during that wretched climax, there’s a neat misdirect with a mirror and an intricate Rube Goldberg moment that worked really well. Basically put, the action set pieces work a lot better when they’re driven more by intellect than by combat. We could definitely use more of that in a Sherlock Holmes (adjacent) picture.

Overall, Enola Holmes 2 is more of what made the first film enjoyable and only half of what made it frustrating. Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, and Helena Bonham Carter are all still a blast to watch. The main character and her adventures in sleuthing are still perfectly charming. The feminist themes are still blunt, but at least conveyed in an intelligent way that directly advances the plot. The action scenes are marginally improved, but nowhere near enough. I’m not sold on the potential Enola/Tewkesbury romance, but we’ll see where that goes if and when we ever get a third movie.

In such a busy awards season with so many Oscar contenders flooding the multiplexes and arthouses, I think there’s definitely some value in relaxing at home with a breezy YA adventure. On those grounds of counter-programming, I can give this one a pass.


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