Review: Enola Holmes 2

Enola Holmes 2

Trailer

Game, afoot, etc.

Enola Holmes (Milly Bobby Brown) opens up her own private detective agency in Victorian London, but fails to attract any customers, with most more interested in employing her bother, Sherlock (Henry Cavill). But when a matchstick girl comes calling about her missing sister Sarah (Hannah Dodd), Enola is thrust into a wide-ranging case involving government conspiracy, corrupt police, militant feminists like her mother xxxEudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) and the liberal intervention of her friend Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), for whom Enola continues to have more than just platonic feelings.

I had a lot of time for 2020’s Enola Holmes, an excellent YA take on the Holmes mythos that featured a stand-out central performance from Brown to go with an excellently elaborated mystery plot tinged with themes of feminism and fighting a corrupt system. A sequel was inevitable, especially with Brown maintaining her status as one of Netflix’s prize actors after the most recent season of Stranger Things. Same director, same writer, most of the same cast (Sam Claflin’s smarmy Mycroft is absent): success was not guaranteed, but the ingredients were there.

And success doesn’t quite come. I liked Enola Holmes 2 precisely because of those individual ingredients: the excellent cast, the frequently sparkling dialogue, the themes that touch on feminism in an extremely male-dominated world. But the sum of all these parts doesn’t come close to the same final number as the original film did. Call it a consequence of the film’s running time, call it a problem related to everything that Enola Holmes 2 is trying to fit in, call it an inevitable decline in the kind of energy and uniqueness that was on display in the first film. Enola Holmes 2 does try to keep the train on the tracks, which I give it a lot of credit for, but the engine is teetering.

So, the good. The cast is great: Brown has really settled into this role and brings the same level of effortless charm that she did the first-time round, not stuck in one mode but able to jump between badass detective and stumbling romantic with great ease, and she’s still able to convey a hell of lot with just a look straight into the camera. She’s matched by Cavill as Sherlock, exhibiting a more vulnerable kind of sleuth, one doubting his abilities and struggling to accept Enola for who and what she is. Partridge has evolved a bit in the Tewkesbury role, and he and Brown maintain the great chemistry that marked the first film. Numerous others pop in and out of the story, from Bonham Carter as the Holmes matriarch who knows what to do with explosives to David Thewlis as a suitably imposing villain, and nobody gives a bad shift. The script, from Jack Thorne, is good in certain moments, especially when Enola is simply sharing a scene with Sherlock or Tewkesbury: in that way Enola Holmes 2 sort of reminds me of elements of Doctor Who down the years, where its writing strength comes out more in individual moments and scenes than in the whole. And the recurring main theme of the exercise, a showcase of the various ways that women can stand on an equal footing with men in a world where men are very unhappy about that prospect, is well presented and explored, whether it is in a depiction of suffragettes bombing postboxes or the power of feminism when married to labour rights.

So, what is the bad then? The film is too long: so was the first actually, but 2 feels the weight of the extended running time more, maybe because the mystery plot presented isn’t quite of the same level as the first film. Both feature a late-in-the-day location shift – the finishing school in the first, a trip to a different kind of prison in the second – that grinds the momentum of the story to a halt, but it comes off worse in 2022. The running time issue is a natural consequence of everything that Enola Holmes 2 is trying to jam into those two hours, to the extent that you feel there might be two films’ worth of material to look through here: a sub-plot involving militant suffragettes is very under-explored, while the property gets caught in the trap of having to introduce various elements of the Holmes mythos – famous villains and sidekicks for example – to very little actual effect on the story at hand. Enola Holmes 2 just never seems to know when enough is enough. And, as is the case with any sequel, what hits home the first time will inevitably not hit home as much the second time: parts of Enola Holmes 2, like Enola’s stuttering interactions with Tewksbury, feel more like a warm blanket you use as a comfort, and a not a fresh, exciting new thing to enjoy.

I feel like I am perhaps coming off as very harsh on Enola Holmes 2: much of my criticism comes down to my own sense of the intangibles, that sense of pacing and verve, that I did feel this production lacked in comparison to the first. There are too many outstanding individual elements whether it is Thewlis’s sneeringly corrupt police detective or a chase scene through a forest that features chucked explosives or Enola learning how to flirt wordlessly with fans or a scene where Tewkesbury teaches Enola how to dance, that all just don’t come together in the way that you think that they would. It reminds me very much of my thoughts on Frozen 2, insofar as it seems that the people behind Enola Holmes 2 flung a lot of ideas at a wall, saw what stuck, and then tried to make a narrative around them, as opposed to starting with the narrative and letting the individual moments form around it.

The film does look pretty good. It’s an idealistic vision of Victorian London in many ways, where even the mice-infested slums have a homely sort of feelings to them, but I don’t think that anyone is looking at a Holmes story expecting a great deal of realism. The camera is still glued to Enola, every time that she breaks the fourth wall, giving the audience the feeling that they are in the story as opposed to just watching it from a distance. A few sequences are really good, like the chase or dance scene mentioned above, moments where a great deal of care and attention has been given to the correct framing. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t all attached to a better story.

I won’t give up on this franchise by any means, as there is more than enough good in Enola Holmes 2 to show that there remains plenty of potential with this story and with this title character. The film is acted well, has a decent enough script, looks good. But there are just too many drawbacks for me to be really satisfied with the end product: that running time, that sense of bloat in terms of the individual elements and set-pieces and the undeniable feeling that this property has drifted far too close to the realms of needless padding and fan service instead of something more substantial, and palatable. There will, inevitably, be a third installment and maybe that one will be a little better. I have faith. But as for entry #2, it’s a non-recommendation from me.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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