In what is the first in an establishment series of films for Netflix, a combination of new and old comes forth to deliver a frustrating polarizing experience that leaves much to be desired. But in what ways, and where are the mistakes this film made that perhaps can pave the path forward?
Initially I was going to leave a bit of mystery to keep with this review, but instead I want to point out the one absolutely great thing about this film: the acting, especially by Millie Bobby Brown. Despite my thoughts on the screenplay itself, the acting jobs done by everyone in this film stand tall throughout the presentation. Even Henry Cavill has room enough to shine as the emotionally stunted but cunning and charming Sherlock Holmes. Everyone comes off as believable characters rather than actors simply appearing to read lines, and their dedication to character deserves great merit.
What doesn’t deserve great merit is nearly everything else. Besides the costuming, which was nicely done, set designs came off as bland and, at parts, entirely unbelievable- at multiple points, characters walking can be seen distorting the false flooring, which is made even more noticeable with the multiple scenes having characters flinging themselves on the floors to fight, escape, etc. Certain locations have fewer problems than others, such as the filming location for the “Tewkesbury” estate scenes. Bad CGI also litters this film throughout, including visually distracting bridges, smoke, explosions, fire, and others. Even the lighting is confusingly inconsistent, and the climax scene has it the worst, taking place at night yet having swaths of light somehow coming into as massive house that is supposed to be drenched in darkness. Our characters were even shown outside in a lighting that is darker than inside the house somehow.
If it’s not these technical errors, it’s deliberate artistic choices that bog the film down. Throughout the movie, Enola breaks the fourth walk to talk, at great length, about what is happening, and not done so as if she is reading from a diary entry from a later point, but actively speculating and detailing the plot for the audience. In one scene, her doing this actually leaves her vulnerable to an enemy who then goes on to waterboard her in an attempt to kill her. As a whole, these monologues are distractingly inconsistent with the tone from multiple other scenes, making nothing feel as though it carries weight for almost the whole film. Her constant looks towards the camera don’t do anything to add to a scene, but rather serve to distract, or failingly deliver an attempt at comedy. In fact, it might have even been effective had it simply happened less, but since it happens at least three other times throughout the course of the film, it loses its shine early on and never quite gets it back.
Editing in this movie is bordering schizophrenic, alternating between quick cuts and awkward handycam sequences where they aren’t appropriate. It makes much of the on-screen depictions feel rushed, and seeing characters jutting about from cut to cut to cut to cut to cut for the same exact sequence gets very old very quickly. There are times when Enola is piecing together clues from her mother that are shot as though she’s in the middle of an action scene, and we don’t get to see her work out the clues through her wit and strong mind that the film is attempting to convince us of. Despite all this, the runtime for this film is over 2 hours and feels much longer.
In fact, moving forward, I suspect some form of interaction between Enola and Sherlock would do well to develop her character overall much more, and departing from hand-holding the audience would be a step forward in that direction as well. So much of this movie is explained through visual cues as it is, and to have Enola figure something out only to have minutes of monologue explaining what she’s realizing to the audience adds runtime without adding substance. Having her realize clues visually or by having dialogue with a related detective character such as Sherlock who can allow her to realize larger machinations on her own in ways that feel organic without feeling as though the film is padding length would have done great for a mystery as this, but it’s wasted.
In the end, it’s a film of greatly wasted potential. Despite my complaints, it’s not horrible, and there are moments where the film does shine, but they are simply far too few, and they are drowned in questionable artistic choices. The core mystery of this film was great, but it doesn’t respect the audience’s time, repeats itself frequently in both its themes (which are never fully fleshed out, either) and its mystery itself. Instead you get a story where there is political commentary that isn’t developed, a romance that isn’t developed, a commentary on class division that isn’t developed, and a mystery that doesn’t quite deliver the payoff you’d expect until Sherlock himself fills you in. There is promise, but the first go was staggeringly disappointing, and in ways I did not expect. I give this film a 4 out of 10.