Rian Johnson’s Knives Out garnered plenty of admirers on its release in 2019, though I felt at the time that it was a case of style over substance. Call me old fashioned, but I’m of the opinion that one of the basic requirements of a whodunnit is that it should be hard to crack and, in this case, it really wasn’t. The sequel (helpfully subtitled A Knives Out Mystery, just in case we’ve missed the connection) recently enjoyed a week in cinemas – at a time when we couldn’t see it. It now appears on Netflix, who financed it and they will also be funding several further instalments. The reviews haven’t been quite so ecstatic this time around, but perhaps ironically, I find this one an improvement on the original, mainly by virtue of the fact that I really can’t guess where it’s headed – though it should also be said that there is a glaring plot hole in there that should have been plugged. (See if you can spot it!)
Once again, this is very stylish, bright and kinetic. We’re offered a selection of – mostly repellent – characters who feel more like caricatures than real people. We learn more about ‘the world’s greatest detective’, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who apparently is fond of sitting in his bath whilst wearing a fez (as you do) and who appears to share his home with a very famous housemate. It all begins with a bunch of seemingly unconnected individuals receiving invitations to an exclusive party on billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton)’s private Greek island.
The invites come in the form of elaborate puzzle boxes, which must be deciphered. Soon enough, Blanc is standing on the dockside with the other guests, who include hapless socialite Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), muscle bound YouTuber, Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and Bron’s former business partner, Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe). It soon becomes clear that Blanc hasn’t actually been invited to this bash, so his presence is only the first in a whole series of mysteries to be solved.The action is set in 2020, so hats off to Johnson for actually referencing the COVID pandemic, with the characters wearing masks and being all awkward about hugging and shaking hands, something that’s barely ever been referenced in the cinema so far.
Once on the island and inside Bron’s super luxurious home – the centrepiece of which resembles a huge er… glass onion – the host announces that they will all be playing an elaborate murder mystery game. At some point in the evening, he will be ‘killed’ and the guests will have to work out whodunnit…
So far, so Agatha Christie, but it should be said that nothing here goes according to anybody’s plan and, while I feel the early stretches of Glass Onion take some sticking with, once we’ve reached the midpoint, a huge revelation in the form of a series of flashbacks makes everything much more interesting. From here, the proceedings become ever more unhinged, ever more labyrinthine, as Johnson throws aside the conventions of the genre and begins to have fun with proceedings. It’s here too that his central tenet becomes clear. We’re continually reminded that nothing is hidden, nothing is opaque and that the answers to every puzzle are right there in front of us.
It’s clever but, once again, there’s a sense of distance. Because I don’t believe in any of these people, the result is like watching an expert game of chess, with the director manipulating the action like a grandmaster. I’m watching with a sense of detachment rather than being swept up in the proceedings.
Ultimately Glass Onion is an interesting exercise in legerdemain, and Netflix will doubtless do well with it. It will be interesting to see where the series of films goes from here but, for me at least, this feels like a step in the right direction.