Return of the Younger Holmes

Enola Holmes 2

Back a couple of years ago, when the original Enola Holmes arrived on The MatrixA speculative future story with superhero and anime influences, The Matrix not only pushed viewers to think about the nature of their own reality but also expanded what filmmakers could do with action sequences and filming. It then launched a series of movies, games, and comics, creating a franchise still talked about today., it wasn't a movie I would have credited for being a "franchise starter". Sure, it was clear the streaming service really wanted to get a good series going, what with the film featuring a couple of their big stars -- Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill -- as well as the film being based on a series of successful YA novels. If ever Netflix had a chance at getting a movie series going, this seemed like it... at least until you watched it.

It's not that Enola Holmes is bad; it's a charming, inoffensive little film, all things considered. It's not a great movie though. It's simple, and fun, but the mystery at the center of the film is too simple, and the whole production is more twee than most viewers probably would have liked. Just like its central star, Enola Holmes was way too sure it was right about everything, even when it wasn't.

The movie, though, benefited from when it was released, right in the middle of COVID lockdown. With everyone locked inside for a year, anything that could provide some entertainment and lift spirits was greatly appreciated. The light and frilly Enola Holmes gained a big following among Netflix's subscribers, and those same fans cheered loudly when Netflix announced a sequel. More fizzy fun with Sherlock's junior detective? "Yes, please," they shouted.

Watching through sequel Enola Holmes 2, it's clear the production team took the compliments and criticism for the first film to heart. While the main stars are the same -- Brown as Enola, Cavill as her brother Sherlock, and Helena Bonham Carter as their mother Eudoria -- the film features a more focused story, a more broadly developed setting, and far more action and intrigue than the previous movie. While I still wouldn't call it the best film in the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, not at all, it is a fun and fizzy adventure that manages to be more engaging than the original. That makes the prospect of a third film in the series far more tolerable.

In the film our (not so) famous female detective, Enola (Brown), has started her own detective agency. Unfortunately for her, all the clients that come in want to speak to her brother, assuming he's somehow being this new Holmes Detective Agency. Enola quickly runs out of funds to keep the lights on and has to pack up, but just before she locks the doors on her new place she gets her first real client: Bessie (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss), a young girl looking for her adopted sister. The sister, Sarah Chapman, went missing some days earlier but no one seems to take the disappearance seriously. No one, that is, except Enola.

Going with Bessie to the matchstick factory the girls worked at, Enola quickly discovers that the case isn't as simple as just a missing girl. There's an intrigue about finance, stolen property, and potentially a criminal conspiracy. This coincides with a case Sherlock (Cavill) is working, following a series of crimes, transfered money, and no seeming pattern. And once Sherlock and Enola study all the clues, they both realize their cases are one and the same. Brother and sister will have to work all angles not only to find the missing girl but bring the whole criminal enterprise down.

One cannot fault Enola Holmes 2 for going big. Unlike the first film, which was largely focused on Enola trying to find her mother, and getting out of the mess she finds herself in with sudden boy toy Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), this film has cases layered upon cases, all twisting and squirming around each other in a big mess of clues, red herrings, and double crosses. It certainly feels like a case much more worthy of a Holmes than anything appearing in the original film.

It also ties itself into actual events, something I appreciate given the setting of the films. Sarah Chapman was a real person who led the Matchstick Girl Strike of 1888. If you know your history you'll know that the matches the girls were making, due to inferior materials, where killing them. Chapman discovered this fact and worked to lead the strike that eventually brought real change to the industry. Much of that history is covered in the film, and if you know your history then those real facts help the case come together for the viewer as they watch the film unfold.

With all that said, if you don't know your history the film still does enough to give you some of the clues needed to solve parts of the case. Some of the clues are way beyond anything a normal viewer could figure out -- a sheet of music that acts as a treasure map, for example, is particularly obtuse and hard to follow -- and that means parts of the case simply can't be solved if you aren't Sherlock, or Enola, Holmes. The film is smart about a number of its elements, but maybes at times a little too smart for its own good.

With that said, even if you can't solve the case before the characters do, you can still enjoy the detectives and their journey. Brown is great here as Enola, having really gotten to the heart of her character. She's fun and feisty, with all the brains and inner strength you'd expect from a Holmes. She lights up the screen with her performance here, and no matter where the film takes us or how things go, she carries it all effortlessly. Cavill, in fact, seems a little less essential to the whole film, despite being great here, just because Brown is so good. But then, as much as Sherlock has a key role to play here this isn't his film.

The production values on this film are great, and the whole movie has a solid, lived in feel. Despite it all clearly being sound stages and green screen, it doesn't feel that way. This is one of more most handsome Netflix films I've seen in some time, assisted in no small part by the fact that Netflix generally produces (or buys up) terrible films. By grace of that fact, Enola Holmes is one of the best movies Netflix has managed to produce yet.

With all that said, there are still better Sherlock Holmes films out there. The YA-related Young Sherlock Holmes treads the same territory as Enola Holmes 2, with it's sprawling adventure and grand set-pieces, but I think it did a slightly better job translating the beats of the greatest detectives adventures to the YA genre. And it's hard to compare this film against the best episodes of either Sherlock or Elementary, among many adaptations.

This film is fun, and grand, and will certainly delight the fans of the first one. It's an improvement in basically every respect, and charts a solid path forward should this film series continue. It's not nearly the best Holmes adaptation but, for the first time, I think this series could actually grow to compete with the adventures of our heroine's older brother. Certainly the foundation is now there for grand things to come.