“Enola Holmes 2” opens with the classic “You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation” trope. As one of the few movie clichés I have yet to tire of, it speaks to how “Enola Holmes 2” is able to be charming despite its imitative nature as both a sequel and spin-off of the “Sherlock Holmes” universe.
Quick recap: The first film follows Enola (Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”) in search of her missing mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter, “Ocean’s 8”). Enola meets a boy named Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge, “Pistol”), a runaway lord, who joins her on this adventure. Eventually, it is revealed that Eudoria left to protect Enola from her dangerous plans to protest for women’s suffrage. Sherlock Holmes, Enola’s brother, (Henry Cavill, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”) plays only a small role in “Enola Holmes,” a misfortune remedied in this sequel, as Enola and her brother end up joining forces to solve their respective cases after discovering the mysterious ways they are intertwined.
This second film isn’t your ordinary whodunit, though. Enola doesn’t just investigate a missing person case — she becomes the prime suspect in a murder. The “Enola Holmes” sequel graduates from subtle feminist messaging to addressing progressive politics and misogyny in 19th-century England head-on. Enola has opened her own detective agency but struggles to find clients due to her perceived lack of experience and a general preference for her brother. Enola is packing up her office when a client, at long last, comes in search of her missing sister, Sarah (Hannah Dodd, “Anatomy of a Scandal”). During her investigation, Enola spars with grown men and uncovers a dark truth about the endangerment of women’s health in a factory workplace.
The fem-centrism of this film is found not only in scenes of Enola squaring up with men or finding her way out of her brother’s shadow in a male-dominated field but in her finding unity in sisterhood and fighting for ethical working conditions. Drawing inspiration from the Match Girls’ Strike of 1888 in London, “Enola Holmes 2” centers its mystery around corrupt businessmen and the exploitation of female factory workers.
A signature of Enola’s on-screen presence is her frequent interaction with the audience — she breaks the fourth wall with knowing looks, occasional eye-rolling, humorous quips and witty remarks. A signature of Sherlock’s on-screen presence is his sharp-tongued, fast-paced inner monologue narrating his deductive reasoning. These choices give Enola her undeniable charm and preserve the intrigue of solving a case alongside the detective. As a mystery-thriller, the film successfully builds tension and crafts a compelling, multi-layered case for Enola to solve. Compared to the first film, there are more twists, lurking figures, surprisingly violent action sequences and cohesive plot lines. With more complexity and social relevance, the mystery of “Enola Holmes 2” is able to grip a wider audience than its predecessor.
In some ways, comedic acting can demand more from actors than drama. An acute awareness of timing and audience is required to play comedy right, and Brown’s performance as Enola demonstrates she’s more than capable. Brown, who gained worldwide recognition for her breakout role as Eleven in the cultural phenomenon “Stranger Things” has already proven she can handle characters with emotional depth and complex trauma. “Enola Holmes” peeks deeper inside the vastness of Brown’s acting range, as she executes comedic timing and nails her lines with ease. Where Brown ends and Enola begins is an invisible line, which makes this performance so natural and worth watching.
The sequel leans into the 19th century more than the original, displaying noticeably more adorned costumes and intricate set design. With a richer variety of settings, including an embellished ballroom and Sherlock Holmes’s flat, the audience gets to explore more of Victorian London. “Enola Holmes” is a callback to the original Sherlock Holmes by all counts, and the romance of Victorian clothing and backdrop assist the film to a great degree, conjuring affection for its take on such a celebrated character and story. If you’re a period film fan, it’s just plain fun to look at.
This sequel also elevates the series by devoting more time to the character development of the Holmes siblings, save the elusive Mycroft (Sam Claflin, “Enola Holmes”), who is noticeably absent. Enola and Sherlock both grapple with a deep-rooted desire for independence; Enola refuses to accept assistance, while Sherlock refuses to part from his reclusive ways. When their cases bring them together, they bond in heartwarming moments and exchange bits of wisdom. The film also does well to develop the romance between Enola and Tewkesbury — another way Enola cedes her solitude — with plenty of swoon-worthy moments. At its core, “Enola Holmes” is about self-discovery and womanhood, which this sequel expands on through fresh material and Brown’s natural charisma as Enola.
In further service to progress the Holmes sibling universe, “Enola Holmes 2” briefly introduces their spins on two iconic characters from the “Sherlock Holmes” universe: criminal mastermind Moriarty (Sharon Duncan-Brewster, “Dune”) and sidekick Dr. Watson (Himesh Patel, “Don’t Look Up”). These tasteful nods to the original Sherlock Holmes, as well as the film’s successful efforts to evolve the characters, point to hopes for a third installment of the series. With new and more developed characters, an “Enola Holmes 3” would have much to work with.
Somehow, this movie manages to be a social commentary, a missing person case, a murder mystery, an action-adventure and a romantic comedy all in one — and it works. It is a widely accepted truth in movie-making that sequels are doomed to inferiority to their original, but “Enola Holmes 2” seems to have cracked the case for escaping this fate.
Daily Arts Writer Maya Ruder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.