Given that Netflix’s “Enola Holmes” was such a huge success– it was viewed by a staggering 76 million households when it was released in 2020– a sequel was definitely going to happen. Fast-forward to 2022 and the release of “Enola Holmes 2,” a new film once again inspired by the popular young adult book series by Nancy Springer.
The plot of “Enola Holmes 2” is simple enough: Following the events of the first film— don’t worry, I can barely remember anything about that movie, either— Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), a spunky young Victorian girl, decides to hire her services out as a professional detective. But it’s not easy being a sleuth in the late 19th century, let alone a young female one, and she is quickly discouraged. Just as she is about to close up shop, she gets her first job: to find the missing sister of a poor matchstick girl (Rachel Kwok). When the seemingly straightforward case reveals a complex and deadly conspiracy, one that seems to involve not only the highest levels of government but also a mysterious criminal mastermind, Enola realizes that she might need the help of not only her friends, but also her brother (Henry Cavill)… who just happens to be Sherlock Holmes, the World’s Greatest Detective.
There is much to recommend this movie. The lead cast, for one, is uniformly effective. In what will be a surprise to no one, Millie Bobby Brown, who returns as the eponymous heroine, once again displays the combination of talent and charisma that made her the undisputed breakout star of Netflix’s immensely popular “Stranger Things” series. Equally compelling is Henry Cavill, who really should be a much bigger star by now— or at least a big enough star for people, including industry professionals, to stop mispronouncing his last name. (Just like the actor himself has helpfully pointed out on the Internet, it rhymes with “travel.”) The supporting cast, too, is very effective: returning actors Helena Bonham Carter (as Enola’s idiosyncratic mother Eudora) and Adeel Akhtar (as the hapless Graydon Lestrade of Scotland Yard) both put in solid work, as does new cast addition David Thewlis (who is clearly enjoying himself playing the malevolent Superintendent Grail).
The movie, peppered as it is with playful graphics and light touches of humor, is quite fun to watch. Director Harry Bradbeer, best known for helming episodes of TV shows like “Fleabag” and “Killing Eve,” keeps the movie chugging along at a satisfying pace, alternating frenetic action scenes with quieter, more character-driven moments. Bradbeer’s liberal use of fourth-wall breaking, no doubt honed during his stint on the aforementioned “Fleabag” (which perfected the cinematic device), keeps the audience engaged throughout.
But “Enola Holmes 2” has its flaws, too. Although the movie looks great, the sweeping CG vistas of Victorian London are distracting and ultimately unconvincing. Even less convincing is the central romance between Enola and Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), whose scenes of flirtatious banter don’t quite hit the kind of screwball comedy energy the filmmakers were obviously going for. There are numerous action sequences, too, that are completely devoid of logic, plausibility, and— most crucially— a genuine sense of peril. The climax is poorly lit and confusingly edited, and it leads to not one, but two stagey, narratively inert scenes in which characters, in a blatant reversal of the most basic of screenwriting rules, “tell” rather than “show.” Plus the ending features such an unexpected thematic shift that it seems to come from an entirely different movie!
But the main flaw of “Enola Holmes 2” is more basic than any of those mentioned above. Every good murder mystery contains a tacit invitation for us, the audience members, to solve the puzzle along with the movie’s main characters. All the clues are hidden in plain sight; so that by the end, it would be possible, just possible, for the cleverest, most observant among us to solve the case ourselves— as long as we were paying close enough attention throughout. This is one of the reasons people enjoy movie mysteries in the first place! Well, in this film, there is no such pleasure. There is simply no way on Earth any one of us could have figured out what the London map really represents, or the significance of the sheet music, and who the criminal mastermind really is. After a while, the spectacular leaps of logic become, sadly, more annoying than impressive.
Still, there are worse ways to spend two hours and ten minutes. Because despite its shortcomings, “Enola Holmes 2,” much like its marginally superior predecessor, is just entertaining enough— particularly, I would imagine, for tweens and teens— to serve as a gateway to better, more substantial mystery films.
5 crowns: a must-see
4 crowns: excellent
3 crowns: good but not great
2 crowns: just about watchable
1 crown: avoid at all costs