Friday, April 19, 2024

‘Enola Holmes 2’ Finds New Life in Holmes

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Harry Bradbeer’s Enola Holmes 2 kept everything I liked about the first one and got rid of everything I didn’t.

Over the years, Sherlock Holmes has become a mythology unto itself. But, unfortunately, many modern adaptations are entirely too precious toward the material. Granted, this is also because fandoms have become obsessed with calcifying lore and confusing purity with respect.

Much like Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books, the latest film from Netflix understands that Sherlock Holmes is a character that never changes, which makes it fascinating when he is thrust into changing world. Especially when said change comes from his little sister Enola (Millie Bobby Brown).

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Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) sneaks in on her brother’s case

The first Enola Holmes was fun, albeit a little long. Bradbeer’s sequel is brasher, tighter-paced, and much more aware of the world it’s being released into. Though it’s still a tad too long, that’s only because it makes the mistake of confusing the plot with the story. But it’s not fatal, and I enjoyed it so much about the sequel that I can’t find it in me to care that much.

Millie Bobby Brown is back and is as confident as ever. Brown’s Enola is refreshing because as much as Bradbeer, who co-wrote the script along with Jack Thorne, attempts to give the film a solid feminist bent, they provide Enola room to grow. Not to mention Brown seems to be throwing herself into the role of the young Holmes. Unlike most girl detectives, Enola isn’t above taking a hit or even straight-up killing. While outwardly more compassionate than Sherlock, Enola also seems far more pragmatic.

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Sherlock (Henry Cavill) Enola (Brown) and Lord Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge)

Brown is the foundation of Enola Holmes 2. She still turns to the camera to converse with the audience conspiratorially. Fourth wall breaking can grow tiresome, but I like how Brown sometimes turns to the camera to make a face in the middle of a tense moment, sometimes in a way you could even miss. Still, there are times when her joy is infectious, such as when she shows up in disguise, turns to the camera, and gleefully whispers, “Tis I!”

But it’s the vibrating energy Brown imbues the role that makes Enola pop; she’s constantly moving, too full of life and curiosity to sit still for long. The world is full of mystery, and Enola Holmes wants to solve every riddle and pull every thread.

The most enjoyable scenes are where Enola and her big brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) bicker like siblings. “Oh yes, we mustn’t let the world see inside Sherlock Holmes.” A cutting line with a touch of irony as Enola also suffers from opening herself up, especially to the handsome young Lord Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge). The scenes between Brown and Cavill work not only because the two have a joyous chemistry, which they do. But because Enola is so much like her brother, she can’t see that the things she accuses Sherlock of are traits she exhibits.

Something that Sherlock sees but Enola cannot. Cavill seems much more at home as Sherlock than he did in the first. Or maybe it’s that Thorne’s script gives Cavill more to build upon this time around. Either way, what sets Cavill’s Holmes apart from others is how he plays the introverted aspect of the character. It is common for modern performances to give Holmes a bit of theatrical flair, making him more of a man-child than the psychologically sensitive and complex character he is. By going against the trend, Cavill’s Holmes seems more adult if only still finds himself and his principles.

Indeed, when Eudora (Helena Bonham-Carter), the Holmes matriarch, shows up late in the movie, she mutters, “I sometimes think I did too good a job of teaching you to be independent.” She is, of course, referring as much to Sherlock as she is to Enola. It’s learning to do things with other people that is the underpinning of Enola Holmes 2. The realization of collective action and how revolution comes not from leaders but from coalitions. A fitting theme for a sequel about a young girl detective coming into her own during Victorian London.

Tewkesbury returns, now a Lord and a Reformer. He and Enola are still dancing their dance of awkward first crush. Brown and Partridge have a lovely way of being awkward around each other; both are obviously head over heels for each other but still too young and too caught up in appearing cool rather than being honest about it.

The hapless Inspector Lestrade (Adeel Akhtar) has also returned, his life complicated by not one but TWO Holmes. Even Edith (Susie Wokoma) has returned and even gets to participate in a daring prison escape while leading an equally spirited horse and carriage chase.

The only one not returning is Sam Claftan’s Mycroft which suits me fine. I didn’t mind Thorn’s version of the character, but he felt redundant and mean in a way that didn’t fit the film or the story.

However, the introduction of Superintendent Grail (Henry Thewlis) is nothing less than a stroke of genius. His introduction, combined with an address at Whitechapel playing a prominent part in the mystery, suggested we might have a Ripper mystery on our hands. Alas, that is not the case, but Thewlis’s Grail is the perfect foil for both Enola and Holmes. Grail is an older man, a superintendent of Scotland Yard, a symbol of patriarchy and authority, an embodiment of everything Enola struggles to fight. For Holmes, Grail embodies everything Holmes resents in police officers, their violent contempt for justice.

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Superintendent Grail (David Thewlis)

Bradberry and Horne are decidedly more ACAB in this sequel than in the previous Enola Holmes. Scotland Yard, long held as a bastion of integrity and professionalism, is here seen like any other police force, inept, corrupt, and more often a tool wielded by the powerful than any force of good.

Enola Holmes 2 struggles to maintain its pacing as it tries to juggle Enola’s mystery involving the disappearance of Sarah Chapman (Hannah Todd), a young girl who works at Lyon’s matchstick factory and is also the center of a wave of Typhus. However, Chapman is a real woman, as is the Matchgirls Strike we see towards the end. 

But that’s not the only mystery; there’s also Sherlock’s case. A case of theft and money laundering is soon revealed as Moriarity’s work. Admittedly, I rolled my eyes at this, not because I dislike Moriarity so much as his ubiquitousness in adaptations. Moriarity can be fun, and as annoyed by its inclusion, I was delighted by the reveal of Moriarity’s identity.

What sets Enola Holmes 2 apart from the first entry is how not everything is tied into a tidy bow. The ending is not at all what movies in the vein of Enola Holmes 2 tend to give us and, for that alone, deserves high praise. However, it manages to be both satisfactory and messy simultaneously.

Giles Nuttgens returns as the cinematographer. Enola Holmes is every bit as visually playful as the first, with diagrams and cutaways to drawings with Enola’s handwritten notes or additions to them. If only Enola Holmes 2 didn’t suffer from such abysmal lighting. At times Nuttgens keeps things bright and colorful, but at others, the Netflix curse rears its ugly head with some scenes looking dingy and ugly.

Nuttgens seems much more comfortable with the action this time, with the climax involving three fight scenes going on at the same time. Enola battling Grail, Tewkesbury learns and fails at fighting a bare-knuckle cop, and Holmes fends off three henchmen while dealing with a gunshot wound. These scenes aren’t imaginatively staged, except Enola’s, perched high above the stage, left to fight a force far more versed in brutality than she.

Yet, Nuttgens and the editor Adam Bosman, do a splendid job of keeping the fights separate and the geography clear. In other words, we can tell what’s going on. This may seem like a pretty low bar, but competency is rare enough these days that while not necessarily worth a gold star, it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.

Sequels can go one or two ways: They can either be a retread, only louder and more expensive. Or they can be a fine-tuned continuation, a more confident and robust sibling to the original. Thankfully, Enola Holmes 2 is the latter.

Images courtesy of Netflix

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