Arthur Conan Doyle was and still is one of the most celebrated writers, and his creation, Sherlock Holmes, needs no introduction. Hence, it’s no surprise that the character has been played on-screen by the likes of Basil Rathbone, Roger Moore, Christopher Plummer, Peter O’Toole, Peter Cushing, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, James D’Arcy, Jonathan Pryce, Boris Karloff, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, Michael Caine, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey Jr., and Ian McKellen. But, after this overdose of machoism, the idea of exploring Doyle’s world, which is full of crime and mystery, through the eyes of Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) and watching a non-narcissistic and warmer Sherlock (Henry Cavill) seemed great. And while the overall execution was quite tepid, the first film was enjoyable enough to get excited about Enola and Sherlock’s future adventures. Well, the future is here in the form of “Enola Holmes 2,” and sadly, it’s not any good.
Directed by Harry Bradbeer, and based on the works of Nancy Springer, “Enola Holmes 2” follows the titular character as she’s on the brink of closing her detective agency. That’s when Bessie (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss) arrives at her doorstep and requests Enola to look for her “sister,” Sarah Chapman (Hannah Dodd). This leads her to a fictionalized version of the very real incident that happened in London, where women working in matchstick-making factories developed phosphorus necrosis or phossy jaw due to the allotropes of white phosphorus in matchsticks. While in reality, the company that was at the center of the controversy was Bryant & May, in the film, it’s the Lyon Match Factory. And as Enola tries to untangle the web centering around that particular sweatshop, she comes into the crosshairs of a ruthless police officer called Grail (David Thewlis). Left with no other option, she seeks help from her friends and family, i.e., Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), Edith (Susan Wokoma), Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), and, of course, Sherlock.
I am assuming you are familiar with the “*record scratch* yeah, that’s me” meme. In the early 2000s and all the way to the late 2010s, a lot of movies opened at a very pivotal moment in the narrative. Since it was presented without context, it would apparently generate some sort of intrigue as to how the character got there. So, the protagonist would turn back time and fill us in on the events that brought them to that juncture. It seemed like an attempt to add weight to a plot that didn’t have any. But since films back then weren’t smug about their self-awareness, they would play it straight and do their best to maintain the corniness of that intro throughout the film. Bradbeer employs this method to start Enola’s second adventure. However, the issue is that Bradbeer’s filmmaking is so bland and bereft of any style that this trope feels like a dispassionate gimmick. The rule of thumb is that if you are bringing back a cliché, commit to it.
Does that mean when “Enola Holmes 2” is done catching up with the narrative, it gets better? No, absolutely not. It maintains that same level of insincerity in committing to its politics and its spectacle. That’s right; for some reason, Bradbeer increases the action in the sequel even though it was the worst aspect of the first film. The movie is bearable as cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, editor Adam Bosman, production designer Michael Carlin, costume designer Consolata Boyle, and Bradbeer craft the conversation-heavy scenes. By that, I mean they do the bare minimum. They make no effort to make the film visually interesting by accentuating the work of the production designers and art designers or utilizing the faces of these amazing actors to the fullest. And when they apply that same method to the action scenes, they run into a problem because they are devoid of any energy. Hence, in an attempt to “fix that,” Bradbeer and Bosman chop the fight or chase sequences into bits, thereby making the choreography and stunt work look like an absolute mess.
Coming to the narrative, although Bradbeer is the director of “Fleabag,” which used its fourth-wall breaks so exquisitely, the fourth-wall breaks simply don’t work in “Enola Holmes 2.” Maybe a kind of fatigue has set in after coming across watered-down versions of it in “Persuasion” and “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.” But more than that, I think this case of diminishing returns when it comes to the fourth wall breaking or the writing in general highlights Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s skills as a writer. Because without her and in Jack Thorne’s hands, Bradbeer’s directorial ineptitude is on full display. It’s true that Thorne tries to focus on women’s issues, the Matchgirls’ strike, and critique patriarchal norms. However, he becomes so obsessed with romance, jealousy, and gossip that he turns “Enola Holmes 2” into a spin-off of “Bridgerton.” Bessie, who is so pivotal to the plot, is sidelined for the men to get a share of Enola’s spotlight, which just seems like a retread of the first film. And then there’s the actual villain of the film, who I’m sure utters an iteration of the “we live in a society” meme.
The performances from the cast of “Enola Holmes 2” are quite good. Millie Bobby Brown’s British accent isn’t bothersome. And it never gets in the way of the vocal inflections or physical expressions. Her chemistry with Henry Cavill is excellent. Cavill has said that they share an elder-brother-younger-sister dynamic off-screen, and it translates on-screen too. Cavill’s Sherlock is in a bit of limbo, though. In the first film, it seemed like he was going back to the character’s non-action roots while adding a layer of warmth over him. Here, his drunken stupor and fisticuffs-heavy sequences push him into Robert Downey Jr. territory. Since we’ve already seen that before (twice!), the originality of Cavill’s take feels faded. Louis Partridge is there. His chemistry with Brown is invisible. So, naturally, nothing about him works. The cameos from Susan Wokoma, Adeel Akhtar, and Helena Bonham Carter are watchable. David Thewlis is as villainous as he was in “Wonder Woman,” and I don’t mean that in a good way. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Hannah Dodd, and Serrana Su-Ling Bliss are good but severely underutilized.
A general rule of thumb that has been established in the wake of franchise films is that if your film’s mid-credits and/or post-credits scenes are the most exciting part of your movie, then something has gone extremely wrong. I have to say that that’s the case with “Enola Holmes 2” as well. Now that we are two films into this Netflix franchise, it’s starting to feel like Brown’s Enola is a Kickstarter campaign for Cavill’s Sherlock Holmes series. I don’t know if that’s a good idea because he has already stepped away from “The Witcher” series (probably) due to his commitments to the DC franchise. So, it’s quite possible he won’t be signing on the dotted line for a Sherlock Holmes series. By the way, if this is how you’re finding out that Cavill is back as Superman, I am so sorry. As for “Enola Holmes 2,” all I can say is that if you enjoyed the first film, you might enjoy the sequel. If you didn’t, this isn’t going to do any wonders for you. And if Netflix wants to go forward with this franchise, I do hope they focus more on the writing, the direction, the action, and, well, everything around Enola Holmes.
See More: Everything You Need To Know Before Watching ‘Enola Holmes 2’