Some films seem to exist only to capitalize on the fame of the leading star, for better or for worse. Enola Holmes, starring Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame as the title character, seems like one such film. It has dropped on Netflix this past week with much fanfare from the streaming service and touts a star-studded supporting cast, from Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes to Helena Bonham Carter as Eudoria Holmes — Enola’s brother and mother, respectively. This is a film that feels as though it was slapped together in support of a brand or a trend rather than a passion for the source material. Enola Holmes is a generic teen drama disguised as a different take on the Sherlock Holmes stories, and it never becomes anything unique during its two hour runtime. It’s fluff for a family audience at best — at worst it is a fake woke version of the modern feminist movement that doesn’t understand the nuances of the issue it is tackling.
As stated before, Enola Holmes (Brown) is Sherlock’s (Cavill) ignored younger sister who is far younger than her older siblings. She was raised by her rebellious and wild mother (Carter) to be different from all the other women of the time: instead of being taught how to get a husband, Enola is taught how to fight and stand up for herself. According to exposition from other characters, Enola is just as sharp as Sherlock was at that age, and she finally gets the chance to prove it when she is presented with her first real case — her mother disappears out of the blue. Sherlock and Mycroft (a two-dimensional Sam Claflin) come to help but since they end up restricting her, Enola decides to set off on her own to find her mother.
This plot is relayed to the audience from Enola herself, as this film utilizes fourth wall breaks and narration to let viewers know the details of the case and the protagonist’s relationship with her mother. Most of the personality this movie contains comes from this storytelling technique, and while during many scenes it doesn’t work as well as the creators hoped, it is still an interesting direction to approach the film. Unfortunately, the rest of Enola Holmes is nowhere near as inventive. The plot is as predictable and trite as possible, and the film ends up going in a narrative direction that kills any interest the initial mystery generated. Brown isn’t terrible throughout all of this, showing she can hold up a big-budget film on her own, but the best days of her career will likely not be exemplified by this performance. The rest of the cast is forgettable, with Cavill playing the most out-of-character version of Sherlock Holmes audiences have seen yet. By the end of the movie, I had no idea what the screenplay wanted me to think about Sherlock due to some odd characterization and attitude switches with no context or reason.
For the first 30 minutes of the film, I was interested in how this mystery would unravel. What kills this brief momentum is the introduction of a subplot involving Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), the son of a wealthy family who runs away and bumps into Enola all while being chased by a generic assassin character. This immediately becomes a source of romantic tension, effectively turning Enola Holmes into a cringe-worthy teen romance film that happens to have some sleuthing in it. Not only does this silence the interest I had in the plot, the writers also seem to decide halfway through that the original case regarding the mother is secondary to this romance, which killed all hopes this film had of being a fun Holmes spin-off. Every scene between Tewkesbury and Enola made me audibly groan, and I couldn’t help but think they were pandering to the pre-teen audience by focusing on this plotline.
Another reason that this plotline sinks Enola Holmes like an anchor for me is the contrast between the romance and the strong feminist message the movie pushes. The film constantly emphasizes empowering lines of dialogue and beats us over the head with Enola’s independence, yet doesn’t actually do anything to show how smart and independent she is. Trust me, I’m all for an empowering narrative, but when the screenplay has Enola return to Tewkesbury or Sherlock at any given opportunity, it is hard for me to take this message seriously. She is also supposed to be observant and a genius like her brother, but the film does little to show how smart she is other than decoding some anagrams and executing some plans that end up failing. The reason that TV shows like Sherlock work is because Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock proves in every episode that he is an absolute genius without a shadow of a doubt; meanwhile, Enola Holmes feels like it is following an average teenage girl attempting to solve a complicated case that she has no business with.
Enola Holmes feels like it was written to capitalize on the popularity of the main star and to give Netflix another fun family movie that would generate a hell of a lot of revenue in its first week. While the film doesn’t necessarily fail at either of those things, it fails at bringing a compelling addition to the Sherlock Holmes lore or any other genre this could be included in. In the end the film doesn’t even answer any of the questions it raises at the beginning, making me wonder what the point was in watching this movie at all. If anything, the entire initial plot was just a setup for a potential sequel, which, in my view, is the worst way in which to write a film. Some families and teens will love this movie and it could be an entertaining caper for those looking to turn their brains off, but the lack of effort to create a worthwhile story makes Enola Holmes too generic for it to be memorable or enjoyable for me.
I give Enola Holmes a C-.