WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILER INFORMATION
With very few exceptions, I go in to every film I watch hoping it will be good. I want to enjoy myself, as does anyone else watching a movie. No one really forks over their money with the intent of hating it, except in extreme cases like Cats or Fifty Shades of Grey, where we already know in advance (from trailers, press, or just common sense) that it’s going to be bad. And even then, the exercise of “hate watching” is in itself enjoyable, because you hope you can at least make fun of everything in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of way.
As such, when I pick a movie to watch (at least under normal circumstances; 2020 is the asterisk on everyone’s life at this point), I want to see something entertaining and well-made, or something I can at least write a lot of scathing jokes about. So when I see that there’s a movie on Netflix that posits a little sister for Sherlock Holmes, and it stars Millie Bobby Brown, AND it has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I sit at my screen going, “Okay, safe bet, a nice, probably cool film with a bit of kickass that I can enjoy with minimal effort.”
I don’t know what I missed that 9 out of 10 critics didn’t, because all I saw was two hours of pure suck. I wanted to like this so, so much, but I just couldn’t. Millie Bobby Brown gives a well enough performance based on the material she’s given, but that material is shit, and the whole exercise is little more than 120 minutes of franchise building that defies logic, goes almost nowhere, and suffers from the same trappings of Young Adult adaptations that bring any attempt at enjoyment to a grinding halt. This is so bad that I’m going to do something I’ve literally never done on this blog. I’m going to spoil the ending. This is normally a cardinal sin, but in order to truly understand my rage, you need to know the context. I’ll keep things as nebulous as possible, but the ending pissed me off so much that I have to rant about it at least a little bit. Even if you do choose to see the movie, honestly I think it helps to understand this particularly fatal flaw. I’ll get to that whole business shortly.
The entire premise of the film is set up through clunky exposition and montage, delivered by the titular Enola via one of the most baffling creative decisions I’ve seen in recent years. Not only does she narrate half the story, she breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera. Now, you may be thinking, “What’s weird about a fourth wall break? Tons of movies do it.” And on the surface, you’d be right. There’s an absolute plethora of movies that use this device, whether it’s an active element of the plot like in Deadpool, or a subtle, one-off joke like John Belushi’s raised eyebrows in Animal House. But all of those film have one slight, almost unnoticeable difference to this one. Ahem, THEY’RE NOT SET IN VICTORIAN FUCKING ENGLAND WHERE FILM CAMERAS DON’T FUCKING EXIST YET!
It pulls you straight out of the picture. Every time Brown turns her head to the camera I just want to punch the screen. And what’s weirder is that she does it at some really ill-timed moments where other people are around, and no one reacts to this. That could have actually worked as a meta joke, as both Sherlock and Mycroft have their quirks that can border on mental illness depending on the interpretation. Just switch the perspective and have someone observe Enola turning her head and talking to no one. You’d never doubt for a second that she was a Holmes child with that, and it would actually humanize her character in a somewhat unique way.
But that’s another major problem with this film and several others like it. In their quest to showcase more “strong, young, female leads,” Hollywood has spent the last several years overcompensating, to the point where these protagonists can basically have no flaws. Part of it is the YA format (Tris Prior fits all of society’s best qualities, Katniss Everdeen is the greatest marksman with a bow in all of Panem, etc.), but even more mainstream fare like the Disney remakes exploits this trope. Instead of just being a curious bookworm, live-action Belle is the inventor and genius engineer, while her father is just an artist. In the animated Mulan, the title character makes the sacrifice of taking her father’s place knowing she’ll probably die because she has no training as a soldier and begins the film as a very awkward person before learning to be the best version of herself. Contrast that with the live-action version (which I admit I haven’t seen, but I’ve read enough reviews and seen enough clips to be confident in this assertion) where she’s already basically doing parkour and kicking ass as a child, a natural prodigy. So where’s the risk?
My point is that Hollywood is afraid of allowing their leading ladies to have imperfections, because they think that somehow the audience will be offended or the “girl power” vibe won’t get across. Instead, they defeat their own purpose, because if the main character has nothing wrong with them, they can’t grow along the course of their journey, rendering the whole thing utterly pointless, not to mention boring. That’s one of the major issues with Enola Holmes, because Enola establishes herself as already superior to everyone around her (including her famous brother), with little more than the fourth wall breaks and a montage of quick training hits from her mother, played by Helena Bonham Carter, who’s good for the whole two minutes she’s in the film.
When Mrs. Holmes suddenly vanishes on Enola’s 16th birthday, she begins looking for clues that might lead her to her mother and uncover the secrets of her past. Okay, this might be intriguing. The Mystery of the Missing Mama. I can get into this. Let’s see how Enola can apply the deductive reasoning that made her big brother the world’s greatest non-Batman detective.
Oh, wait, never mind, we have to suspend the entire plot to introduce the unfairness of the world. Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) return to set their mother’s affairs in order and to generally serve as lazy antagonists. Sherlock expresses a protective nature care that’s so over-the-top emotional (and since when has Henry Cavill ever been accused of being too emotional) that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate has sued Netflix because only the stoic, deadpan Sherlock is in the public domain. Meanwhile, Mycroft merely exists to sneer at Enola for not being a proper Victorian lady. He’s scandalized by her wearing pants, and when there’s talk of a reform bill in Parliament and suffragettes, he literally snorts, “Ugh, feminism.” I think maybe Mycroft might be sexist, but I can’t be entirely sure. I think there’s a small area of my head just below my left ear that hasn’t been beaten upside itself yet.
After several minutes of cringe, Enola cleverly escapes her house and makes her way to the train station, bound for London so that she can continue the pursuit of her mother. There are no clues leading to London until a retroactive montage well after the fact, but sure, let’s just get this plot moving again. On the train, she encounters a young man hiding in a bag from both his family and a paint-by-numbers assassin. Oh look, he looks like Harry Styles. HALT THE PLOT AGAIN! Seriously, she completely abandons her main objective to protect a cute boy. A Young Adult series, you say? Once they figuratively derail the plot by almost literally derailing the train, Enola takes out a pocket knife and impossibly cuts the hair of Viscount Tewksbury (played by Louis Partridge) so that he now looks like Louis Tomlinson. The One Direction stans cheer and I die even more inside.
They eventually part ways once they reach London, but before long the entire story turns into solving why people are trying to have Tewksbury killed and the search for Enola’s mother is all but ignored, save for a few plot convenient flashbacks that somehow provide clues to the B-story rather than her case. Enola gets in repeated struggles against the assassin (Burn Gorman) that should leave him dead every time, yet he somehow always survives until the climax, and Enola Holmes turns from a legitimate mystery into the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies, where combat matters more than actual reasoning and intellect. And yet despite all that, we’re supposed to believe this pandering central conceit that Enola is smarter than Sherlock.
* * * WARNING! WARNING! SPOILER AHEAD! SKIP PARAGRAPHS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING! * * *
And this is where I truly get infuriated. In the film’s quest for “girl power,” a late scene has Sherlock presenting Inspector Lestrade (Adeel Akhtar) with the solution to Tewksbury’s case – a solution which any number of other versions of Holmes would have solved in minutes, mind you – and Lestrade teases that Enola beat him to it. But here’s the thing, no she didn’t. Enola doesn’t solve this case. She guesses wrong, probably because she spent more time cooing over a cute boy and doing jiujitsu than actually being a detective, and the real solution is presented to her after she gets it wrong.
If that’s your message, then fuck you, movie! You can’t build up this pretense that she’s smarter, and then brag about it, when she demonstrably proved that she’s not smarter than Sherlock. This is the Electoral College of literary endings (2000 or 2016, take your pick). She didn’t actually win, but the end result is the same, so retroactively she can claim she won all along anyway. No! It doesn’t work that way! It’d be like burning your dinner in the oven, ordering a pizza, and then bragging that you’re a world class chef. Go right to Hell with that bullshit!
* * * END OF SPOILER! * * *
I really did want to like this movie, I swear I did. But it’s so stuck up its own asshole that it loses any chance of being actual quality. Brown and Bonham Carter give decent performances, but that’s it. The plot is beyond cheesy, the fourth wall breaks are maddening, and so much is lost in the service of what Hollywood thinks is a strong protagonist that there’s no chance to show what actually makes a strong protagonist. Don’t believe me? Just look at this cast. Half of them are from other YA franchises. You have Brown herself from Stranger Things, Claflin, who played Finnick in Hunger Games, Cavill from the DCEU, and Bonham Carter, Frances de la Tour (as a wealthy dowager), and Fiona Shaw (as the head of a strict finishing school for “proper” girls) from Harry Potter. All we’re missing is Kate Winslet for the entire YA BINGO card.
If you have young children or tween girls, I suppose they’ll like it just fine. I fully admit I’m not the target audience for this crap, but that doesn’t stop it from being crap nonetheless. There are tons of Sherlock Holmes adaptations that introduce new aspects to the characters while maintaining the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction of solving a good mystery. This has neither, and it’s ultimately one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen all year.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Did I miss something crucial that actually makes this film good? Forget Sherlock’s emotions, should Netflix be sued just for putting this out? Let me know!