Director: Harry Bradbeer
One of the side-effects of streaming 99% of what I see is that movies are far less of an event. There is no comparison between what I would do and think about en route to see Avengers: Endgame and choosing Enola Holmes 2 (2022) as prime time viewing on a Monday night.
It is unlikely I would see a spin-off Sherlock Holmes movie on my own dime, but I did watch the first Enola Holmes, enjoyed it enough, and was game for the sequel. Had I returned to the original and were my memories of it particularly intact? Absolutely not.
But it is interesting to have a 2-hour option with a considerable budget, a solid cast and whatnot when the movie was never released theatrically. It's not merely content - it is a movie into which care and love was poured. It could have been released to screens and drawn some small box office (and I wonder sometimes if Netflix will one day partner with AMC or something and just make releases like this a thing they do as a matter of course to earn a few extra bucks). It has actual stars. Henry Cavill probably should have been a bigger big screen star than the DC movies and pandemic allowed, and it's time for Millie Bobby Brown to be tested as a young woman on screen.
But those theatrical models may now be completely exploded and irrelevant. So this is sort of the face of what movies are now.
As a movie, Enola Holmes 2 is a perfectly entertaining and serviceable film that tries a *lot* of things, and mostly connects with every swing, even if some balls are pop flies. Like a modern series of books, there's also an obvious intention to be an episodic and ongoing serial which we'll get in installments every year or two, pushing various stories along, which is model I fully endorse. It's easier than another TV show and dumping money into something this lavish is a good idea, imho.
This is a Holmes mystery film, and this one contains an A Mystery and B Mystery - which seasoned viewers will immediately know (1) will dovetail and (2) will reveal Moriarty based simply on the notion that the B Mystery belongs to Sherlock Holmes and he cannot solve the mystery immediately. If this is a spoiler, I am sorry 13 year old reader. Everyone else: go read some Holmes or watch any of 10,000 adaptations.
The A Mystery is about a missing girl from the matchstick factory and the B Mystery is Holmes trying to figure out what's going on with shady banking transfers (all of which seems unlikely in a non-digital environment, but whatever).
We also have Enola's budding romance/ frustration with Lord Tewkesbury, desire to be seen as an independent figure, and probably things I'm forgetting. We also have the ongoing light-terrorism of Mrs. Holmes as portrayed by a still way-too-young Helena Bonham Carter in the name of suffrage - which is never mentioned in the film. Just that she's some sort of urban terrorist, which is a weird thing for England to take lightly given (gestures at the 1980's). And, the film also wants to do a late-inning insertion of worker's rights that isn't exactly unmotivated, but it is a bit unearned.
While the film never feels sluggish, it does feel unfocused. I expect twists and winding and red herrings in my mysteries, but I think the overall impact is that the movie wants to be so many things. And they're lucky that Millie Bobby Brown is such an amazing talent and that the Fleabag-style commentary works as well as it does to keep everything sort of glued together. That said, when Enola is sent to the gallows, all of that felt like it was underplayed as a set-up to what they really wanted to do, which was a jailbreak - which causes fundamentally way, waaaay more problems for our characters than one can count and which never come up again. And inserting "oh yeah, real historical struggle here!" as a flashcard at the end was a hell of a flex. What was the movie THAT could have been?
But that's not the point. If the audience goes and Googles that ending, good on them! This isn't a biopic. I just felt like - hey, a lot of more weight could have been put on this world of the match factory and you would have had a more memorable picture, perhaps.
The film has two technical decisions I fully did not like.
1) At the ball, the music always feels non-diegetic. And sometimes it is, and sometimes it's not, but it's also not a Waltz of the era. And that seems to be an obvious thing to do as a musical choice - have the diegetic and non-diegetic music work together, and instead - they just went with making me wonder what the story was with the music in the middle of a plot point.
2) The final fight takes place in the dark in a theater - or, rather, partial light which seems totally unmotivated. This is not CGI's monsters, these are actors and stunt performers slugging away. They're not hiding anything, but I literally couldn't follow the action at times. I think they had some idea that "when the lights come on, it's symbolic of our heroes' victory!" But even more symbolic would have been our heroes just winning the fight in clear view.
But, hey, the mysteries overall worked for me. The cast is excellent - including the inclusion of David Thewlis who is playing near camp-level-Thewlis here. The CGI Victorian London is convincing enough.
I confess it is much easier to write about complaints, and so it seems like I don't like this movie - but I did! It was fun, fast-paced, charming and balanced character and adventure extremely well. And while I was maybe a step or two ahead once or twice, I was not spoiled for the reveal.
A lot of this just works. The scene at the ball with iffy music choices, and as sort of trope-y as it was, is packed with multiple layers of information, and accomplishes quite a bit, narratively. If you're going to have multiple plotlines - be sure to have places where they intersect! And do it organically! Cavill and Brown are quite good together, and the nuance in their relationship established last movie carries through quite well without exposition. And plenty more!
I do hope there's more of these. It feels weirdly mid-20th Century in it's delivery - Rathbone did like 14 Holmes movies for comparison. But maybe that product of vertical integration has some mirrors in THIS form of vertical integration.
One challenge the movie does have is that - look, Cavill may not be what I think of as as my platonic ideal of Holmes, but he is *good* at whatever this movie is doing with Sherlock Holmes. Introducing a fairly major actor as Dr. Watson at the end (Himesh Patel) just... makes me want to watch those two go about the usual Sherlocking. A Holmes mystery is a Holmes mystery, and if they made a movie about these two, I would be just as ready to tune in for their adventures. That doesn't exactly take anything away from Enola Holmes, but it does speak to keeping focus on your franchise here. Especially when the Doyle estate is already looking at you sideways.