Orange Thursday: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) and Enola Holmes (2020)

Every Thursday, TMINE reviews two movies, carefully avoiding infringing a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick

Come on, studios! Release more movies! Honestly, it’s bad enough that they’re releasing so few at the moment, but pushing back the release dates of Black Widow et al, just because the US can’t get its coronavirus act together? That’s uncalled for.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that Orange Thursday is back down to dregs again, with only two movies left up its sleeve. Fingers crossed, TMINE can watch some more by next week.

This week, then, the double bill is the unexpected third entry in the Bill & Ted franchise, Bill & Ted Face The Music (2020), and yet another of Sherlock Holmes’ unknown siblings turns up in Enola Holmes (2020).

See you after the ads and the trailers.

Bill and Ted Face The Music (2020)

Plot

The ruler of the future tells best friends Bill and Ted they must compose a new song to save life as we know it. But instead of writing it, they decide to travel through time to steal it from their older selves. Meanwhile, their young daughters devise their own musical scheme to help their fathers bring harmony to the universe.

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays

TMINE verdict

The first two Bill and Ted movies were released in the late 80s/early 90s and saw two California High School teenagers learn they write a song that will bring about a utopian future, provided they do a good school report. Naturally, that requires them to travel through time in a non-copyright infringing phone booth to gather famous figures from throughout history to reveal what they make of modern times.

The movies launched the acting career of a certain ‘Keanu Reeves’, while helping then budding actor Alex Winter to build a great career… as a movie producer.

Now, 30 years later – which isn’t mathematically possible, as I personally recollect the late 80s as only being five or 10 years ago – we have a highly unexpected sequel that reunites the casts of those two movies to answer the question that understandably was never answered the first time: what was that song?

Wrong notes?

There was a certain youthful enthusiasm to the original Bill and Ted movies, married with a surprising intellectual rigour. This was a time travel movie that sure, had idiots going back in time in a phone book and not even knowing who Genghis Khan was.

But at the same time, it was a movie that rigidly decided Dark-style that everything that will happen had already happened. Need to open a police cell? Then remember to get the keys at some point in the future, then go back in time to an earlier point and hide them in the place you remember you found them when you were later trying to open that police cell. It gathered together Socrates, Napoleon and Joan of Arc and got them playing on water slides and doing aerobics, but remembered none of them spoke English.

But Bill and The Face the Music is both an older and wiser movie and one that’s embraced the full California: it’s quantum, baby. This is a film that’s allowed its protagonists to grow up and stop being complete idiots; it’s also one that’s decided all futures are possible. As a result, it really is quantum baby, being both stupider and smarter than its predecessors at the same time.

Grown ups, children, grown-up children and childish grown-ups

Wisely, with Bill and Ted now adults and doing their best to unite the world through music – through a combination of bagpipes, tharemin and throat singing – Bill and Ted Face the Music splits the narrative in two.

Bill and Ted go off together to try to steal the song from themselves in the future after they’ve written it, where they learn what’s happened to themselves and their marriages to ‘the babes’ – the medieval princesses they encountered in the first movie, who are now played by Medical Police‘s Erinn Hayes and Heroes‘ Jayma Mays. This works reasonably well, giving us more of the ‘future affecting the past’ notes from the original movies.

But even when we get jacked up, prison versions of Bill and Ted, it still isn’t filled with huge laughter until a murderous robot called Dennis comes back from the future to try to kill them. The bad music isn’t that bad – I actually quite liked it – and while it’s nice to see most of the supporting cast from the original movies back again, it’s actually slightly sad.

It’s actually Bill and Ted’s daughters (Weaving and Lundy-Paine) who give us both the laughs and the teenage Bill and Ted we loved. Weaving and Lundy-Paine give perfect impressions of both Reeves and Winter and push the narrative along by recreating their fathers’ adventures – this time by recruiting musicians from all through history to be in Bill and Ted’s band.

But at the same time, they are teenage Bills and Teds who are smart and actually have musical talent: they’re all the good things about Bill and Ted, without the bad things. That means that this isn’t a simple retread of Excellent Adventure, or even Bogus Journey, when Death (Sadler) inevitably turns up.

The song that changed the world

Having chosen to do the near-unthinkable and try to give us a credible song that could change the world, it’s a relief that the writers just about manage it. And as with Tenet (2020), I imagine that the layers of foreshadowing will be more obvious with a rewatch.

But its multiverse approach to the ending removes what traces of rigour it had and without the youthful energy and joie de vivre of its predecessors, Bill and Ted Face the Music isn’t something you’ll immediately want to rewatch – or even feel the need to. It’s not bad, maybe just a little forgettable compared to its predecessors, bar a few choice moments.

All the same, embrace what is both a piece of warmth at a time we could all do with some warmth and a movie that’s actually in cinemas at the moment.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Enola Holmes (2020)

Available on Netflix

Plot

While searching for her missing mother, intrepid teen Enola Holmes uses her sleuthing skills to outsmart big brother Sherlock and help a runaway lord.

Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar, Susie Wokoma, Hattie Morahan, David Bamber, Frances de la Tour, Claire Rushbrook and Fiona Shaw

TMINE verdict

Sherlock Holmes is one of those iconic characters who people want to commandeer for themselves. Some want to add background, perhaps giving him childhood adventuresThe Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual might have something to do with that. Others want to retell the stories, perhaps with a modern spin. Some metaophorically relocate him to modern times, to create either new stories or spins on old stories, while others literally relocate him.

A slight offshoot of this is the “missing sibling of Sherlock Holmes” genre, which enable the authors to comment on the character, politics or both. The most famous of these is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975) but quietly ticking away in the background in the children’s section of your local bookstore has been The Enola Holmes Mysteries, which see Holmes’ teenage sister investigating various crimes – while critiquing the patriarchy.

And now we have a Netflix adaptation of the first of these mysteries that features two of its darlings – Stranger Things‘ Millie Bobbie Brown and The Witcher‘s Henry Cavill – in an obvious attempt to create another home-grown franchise.

And to be honest, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if it did.

Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin and Millie Bobbie Brown

Away from Holmes

Enola Holmes (2020) is not for the Holmes purists. Any resemblance to Sherlock Holmes is, for the large part, purely coincidental. He’s almost a feminist rather than a misogynist, and he’s warm, friendly and emotional.

Nothing fits with canon, either. He’s already on his way to becoming a famous detective, yet there’s no Dr Watson around to publicise his endeavours; reform of the House of Lords is one of the movie’s main plot points, yet that happened in 1911 when Holmes would have been 57.

Brother Mycroft may be employed by the government, but he’s young and svelte and rather than having “powers of observation and deduction superior to my own”, as Holmes describes him in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, here he’s jealous of both Sherlock and Enola for never having the gift of deduction they share.

All of which matters not one jot, to be honest. It’s not even a very faithful adaptation of the Enola Holmes stories themselves, and I haven’t even started on the lack of historical accuracy and whether you think former-Man of Steel Henry Cavill makes for a good Holmes. Personally, I thought he did, despite his having obvious difficulty fitting his muscles into a three-piece suit.

Rather, Enola Holmes (2020) is actually quite a pleasing attempt to make a mystery for girls and younger women, featuring a winning lead. This is very much “Millie Bobbie Brown as a young, female, heroic, Victorian detective, simultaneously fighting against male oppression”.

It’s her movie, right down to the Fleabag-esque fourth wall-breaking, and it has to be said, she’s great – entertaining, engaging, funny, strong, smart and everything you could want in a young heroine, without her being too perfect.

Not Alone

The main characters and cast, including Helena Bonham-Carter playing the marvellously dotty Holmes matriarch, are definitely the show’s main strengths. Supporting characters don’t do quite as well and rarely stray beyond pastiche or cipher.

But those core strengths stand the movie well, particularly in conjunction with its political take and directorial flourishes. The movie does a good job of highlighting what Victorian life was like for women, as well as what free-thinking women could get up to – yes, jiu jitsu was there for those who wanted it.

One can quibble about the historicity of the silent movie style intertitles, but they’re just one of the tools used by director Harry Bradbeer to engage the audience. Particularly fun are the animated parts, which vary between Strand magazine and “circus advertising poster”, but are invariably entertaining.

Strand magazine Vol iv.1892. Page page 646. illustration The Adventure of the Silver Blaze- “Holmes gave me a sketch of the events” Alex Werner Private Collection.

I guess therefore I solve

The movie’s biggest weakness is that it’s not really a great detective story – or at least not a great Holmes story. While Holmes does occasionally deduce, he’s not a great observer of things, not even being able to recognise that the girl standing in front of him looking expectantly is probably his own sister. Similarly, Enola is really good at guessing who the bad guys are – usually wrongly – and she can fight, put on disguises and the like, but her powers of detection seem largely to be an ability to solve word puzzles.

It’s a shame, since while decent Holmes-esque deductions can be hard to write, they can be done even in shows that aren’t about Sherlock Holmes, so it would have been good to see that kind of writing in a movie featuring Holmes himself – and his supposedly equally bright sister.

It’s all pitched a little younger than I personally would have liked, but it’s a decent, fun and enjoyable piece of work. And Henry Cavill doesn’t have a single stunt in the entire movie – how about that?

TMINE rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.