Sherlock Holmes has been one of the most portrayed characters in film, even winning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. The most popular portrayals in recent memory have been Benedict Cumberbatch in “Sherlock,” a modern adaptation that effectively launched Cumberbatch’s career, and “Sherlock Holmes,” a splashy steam-punk adaptation version that helped relaunch Robert Downey Jr.’s. At the time of the Cumberbatch version (2009-2010), the world was coming to grips with Islamic terrorism, and something about Arthur Conan Doyle’s eccentric detective who plays the violin and struggles with heroin addiction resonated with audiences.
It was only a matter of time, however, before Sherlock Holmes would be adapted for “modern audiences” and go woke. Enter “Enola Holmes.” She is the younger, sassier, and more confrontational sister of Sherlock with a feminist radical mother and her jujitsu instructor who oddly resembles Stacey Abrams. She made waves in her first movie released on Netflix, doing all the things Sherlock did while also fighting the patriarchy.
Although the first movie was well-produced, featured an ebullient performance from Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven from “Stranger Things”), and had the ridiculously handsome Henry Cavill playing her brother Sherlock, it was also annoyingly preachy, obnoxious, and silly. Accordingly, the professional critics heaped praise upon the movie and audiences mostly appreciated its light-hearted escapism in spite of the wokeness.
Fortunately, in the latest installment of “Enola Holmes,” director Harry Bradbeer tones down the excesses of the first movie and attempts to make Enola a more relatable, less irritating protagonist—in other words, there’s less preaching, fewer girlboss moments, and more scenes with Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, the movie still succumbs to woke clichés, particularly in the second half, resulting in an uneven film with mixed messaging and an uncertain future for the franchise.
The film picks up from where its predecessor left off, as Enola Holmes offers her detective services to the people of London. No longer a girl in need of protection (although she’s still technically the ward of Sherlock), she now seeks to protect others with her fighting skills and powers of deduction. Still caught in the shadow of her older brother, she eventually takes on a case to find a missing woman who worked in the slums.
Soon, she joins forces with Sherlock who’s working on a separate case that ties in with her missing woman. It soon becomes clear that there is a larger conspiracy involving murder, extortion, worker exploitation—and Sherlock’s archnemesis Moriarty. Neither Enola nor Sherlock will be able to handle this case alone, so they join forces.
Somewhat like the first movie, the actual sleuthing in “Enola Holmes 2” is surprisingly sparse. Sherlock occasionally shows off his detective skills, rattling off observations and conclusions, while Enola is more a doer than a thinker, donning disguises to infiltrate fancy balls and assembly lines and using her martial arts skills to handle people and get answers. At certain points of the movie, it’s clear that Enola’s approach is superior to Sherlock’s, who’s often stumped in his own case while his sister makes consistent progress on hers.
Of course, this is part of the larger message of “Enola Holmes 2,” which is still very much a piece of woke propaganda. Even though there’s more restraint and actual storytelling for much of the film, this falls apart once her domestic terrorist mother and martial arts teacher enter the picture. The detective work goes by the wayside, and women start kicking butt. Meanwhile, the men go from being respectable forces in their own right to becoming stupid clowns, pompous bigots, or effeminate soyboys—even Sherlock is depicted as a lonely soul who envies his little sister’s pluck and charisma.
In keeping with this, there are the perfunctory speeches shoehorned at the end of the movie about women’s rights. It’s meant to be inspirational, but it’s simply cliché and insufferable. Apparently, solving mysteries and taking down criminals just isn’t enough. One must become a social reformer and lead a liberation movement, too—yet another thing that makes Enola better than Sherlock.
For all this, it’d be unfair to claim that these elements ruin the movie altogether, which is mostly entertaining and well-done. The feminist messaging is more jarring and frustrating than anything else. What could have been a perfectly fun movie with a likable heroine and an interesting story is turned into a flawed movie with only a marginally likable heroine and a predictable plot.
Had its creators resisted pushing an agenda, “Enola Holmes 2” easily could have won over audiences and cultivated a fanbase that might actually have wanted yet another sequel. As it was, most people will likely tolerate Enola Holmes in her new adventure, enjoy the movie for what it is, and hope that Henry Cavill can star in his own Sherlock Holmes film instead of playing second fiddle to a teenage girl.