Enola Holmes 2 is now streaming on Netflix.
I was charmed by the first Enola Holmes movie. Based on a series of YA novels first published in 2007, the original was a sweet reimagining of the classic Sherlock Holmes canon, with Millie Bobby Brown turning in a charismatic performance as the eponymous moppet with a genius-level intellect. That lively energy, however, is missing from the sequel, which retains many of the trappings of the first film, but is more concerned with laying the groundwork for a franchise than spinning a coherent mystery.
The sequel once again casts Brown as Enola, younger sister to Sherlock, now the proprietor of her very own detective agency. This being Victorian England, she is swiftly dismissed by customers who would much work with her more famous brother (Henry Cavill). But when a young girl (a precocious Serrana Su-Ling Bliss) appears to ask for help finding her adopted older sister, Enola Holmes looks into the camera to inform us that the game is once again afoot.
The ensuing story features concurrent mysteries, themes of feminism, a real-life working class revolt, a love story, and multiple additions from the Holmes canon. At a bit more than two hours, all of these plot threads leave the sequel feeling overstuffed, with the actual detective work too often being resolved through improbable leaps in logic and action sequences. It has the look and feel of a traditional Sherlock story, but little of the substance.
Speaking of Sherlock, he takes a more central role in this tale, where he plays a supportive but remote older brother to Enola. Cavill’s Sherlock takes more after Basil Rathbone than Benedict Cumberbatch, absently puffing on a pipe and looking pensive as he gazes at a board with more red string than the Always Sunny meme. He doesn’t fully steal the spotlight from Brown, but the movie’s preoccupation with reimagining various parts of the established Holmes canon proves distracting.
As with the original, Enola Holmes 2’s strong moments come when it focuses on the exploits of Brown’s titular heroine. Brown retains Enola’s infectious charisma for the sequel, frequently addressing the camera with witty fourth-wall-breaking comments on her predicament (though those little asides, and the little animated bits that accompany them, slowly disappear as the movie progresses). She’s especially fun when she teams with her mother – bomb-throwing suffragette Eudoria Holmes (Helena Bonham Carter) – who deserves far more screentime than she ultimately gets.
Enola’s erstwhile love interest, Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), also returns. Enola Holmes 2 uses Tewkesbury as a vehicle for swapping typical movie gender roles, with Tewkesbury teaching Enola to dance and garner attention at a ball, and Enola returning the favor by teaching Tewkesbury to fight. Tewkesbury also ties into Enola Holmes 2’s earnest portrayal of good government and social progress, which makes it feel more like a Parks and Recreation episode than anything else.
Its social commentary is undercut by the way that it goes out of its way to tell us exactly where it stands on any given issue.
In fairness, it can be educational. To wit, a key plot point revolves around a real-life 19th Century health crisis, weaving in the earliest days of the labor movement along with various other issues. But as with so many other elements of Enola Holmes 2, its social commentary is undercut by the way that it goes out of its way to tell us exactly where it stands on any given issue, making otherwise powerful moments feel belabored.
All of this winds up weighing down what was previously a brisk, welcome reimagining of the Holmes canon. It spends a good amount of time laying the groundwork for yet another sequel, introducing multiple new characters in the final act who will presumably have a role to play in a hypothetical Enola Holmes 3. With several more books worth of material to draw from, and Brown landing another producer’s credit on the sequel, it seems like a third movie will happen sooner rather than later.
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If it does happen, I only hope it takes more after the original than its sequel. At its best, Enola Holmes can be a lovely mother-daughter movie – a fresh take on the Holmes canon with a strong social consciousness and a cast full of intelligent and charismatic women. Hopefully whatever follow-up Netflix has planned is able to live up to that potential, because we need such stories more than ever.
Enola Holmes 2 mostly fails to recapture the charm of the original movie, teaming Millie Bobby Brown with Henry Cavill in an expanded role for Sherlock. What should be a high-spirited family film instead feels leaden and overstuffed, more concerned with laying the groundwork for a hypothetical sequel than spinning a quality mystery. The result has the look and feel of a traditional Sherlock story with a feminist spin, but little of the substance.