Glass Onion

Glass Onion ★★★

One of my proudest movie moments of the past few years was when I was able to correctly identify the killer and the red herring of the original "Knives Out" just by looking at its poster. I hadn't paid nearly as much attention to the marketing of this sequel so I wasn't able be so bold without knowing who all was in the cast. But I can proudly state that once everyone was introduced about 15 minutes in, I scribbled the name of the actor who would be the culprit on an Alamo Drafthouse order card and slipped it in my wife's menu. Sadly I can't claim a perfect record, because I made a second prediction at the one hour mark that turned out to be false, but even Benoit Blanc isn't right 100% of the time. Considering what a huge fan I am of the whodunit genre, the first "Knives Out" left me a bit cold. It was entertaining for sure, and I admired the effort to turn the genre inside out with a unique dissection of a supposed murder, but I couldn't help but be a bit dissatisfied. That said, I'll almost always watch a film of this genre, so I was excited when Rian Johnson signed on to make multiple sequels, even though I was sure Netflix would find some way to ruin it. (more on that later)

I found GLASS ONION to be superior to the previous film in just about every way. While Johnson's first take on the genre upended its tropes to the point that it felt like a bait & switch, this successfully adhered to what one looks for in a movie like this, while still offering some modern flare. Without getting into details, I found the resolution of this mystery to be a little too obvious, but the journey to get to the reveal is a lot of fun. It's an entire hour into the film until a body hits the floor, and by then we have gotten to know this small batch of characters and taken note of an unending stream of potential clues. It's always a good sign when you're enjoying the movie enough to not even realize that everyone's still alive. I was a bit dismayed with the first line that laboriously went out of its way to add a piece of information that would never be mentioned were it not important, but then I began to discover that Johnson knows that audiences might be savvy to this and so he proceeds to have so many of these eyebrow-raising lines that it's impossible to take them all in, plus you know many are designed to mislead you. The mystery is very much inspired by "The Last of Sheila," which is one of my favorite examples of the genre, so I felt like I had a leg up on the mystery. There's a prop that is introduced at one point that will ring alarm bells in the brain of any "Last of Sheila" fan and I leaned in close to study it while it was on screen, certain that it must contain something important. It turns out that it did, in a more indirect way than I was expecting, but it was at this moment when I realized that the film must really be doing something right if I was studying it so intently. I felt involved with this in a way that I hadn't with its predecessor. I think it's still an imperfect mystery, and we get an info dump in a flashback halfway through that completely undoes a lot of what I had factored into my initial analysis, but the whole story was pretty tight and the callbacks and payoffs feel well earned, even if you sometimes see them coming a mile away.

I think a fair amount of credit should go to the film's cast. While "Knives Out" had such an expansive roster that several family members never even are considered to be suspects, this is a tightly knit group of eight, minus our uninvited detective. While that narrow field does limit the possibilities of who the killer might be, Johnson has proven throughout his career of capers that he's far more interested in the "why" and the "how" than he is in the "who." I think on that front he succeeds, and I was relieved that he didn't overcomplicate the twists as much as he could have. Daniel Craig seems to be having a lot more fun this time around, and with a salary of $100 million for two films, he friggin' better be. His Foghorn Leghorn accent is tamped down a bit and he's a lot more integral to the actual plot than in the first where he was more of a passive observer who watches the events play out just to amuse himself before revealing he solved the whole thing in seconds during the climax. The rest of the players are all generally strong, with Janelle Monáe making the strongest impression. I also enjoyed Edward Norton more than I have in… I don't know how long. I kind of forget how effective he can be when properly cast, which is something I can't claim to have ever said about Kate Hudson, but she's shockingly good here, channeling her mother's daffy persona while sporting Dyan Cannon's hairstyle. There's also a parade of amusing cameos, with only a couple being an unnecessary distraction. There was one actor who I kept wondering when and how he was going to factor into the mystery, only to have him never return after his introductory bit. Sometimes you just have to tell your friends that you'll write them a good part in the next one, Rian.

While the entertainment media and people on Twitter have been pretty well behaved in keeping the vagaries of this film largely out of sight, I really thought that the worst possible thing that you could do to a whodunit franchise was release it directly to Netflix. When I heard that it was going to drop online on December 23rd, I figured I brief scroll through my news feed would have the whole thing spoiled for me by Christmas Eve. I also feared sitting down to watch this with my family while in a hazy eggnog state. The last thing I need to enjoy a film like this is having to repeatedly rewind for my hard of hearing father while my mother audibly takes turns predicting that each character is the murderer. I was so relieved to see that it was going to get something of a theatrical run, even if Netflix made the insane decision to limit that to only one week. Turns out I wasn't the only one excited to see it at their local multiplex, with the film having the highest per-screen average as any currently in release. Even when releasing a rare film that has people flocking to theaters, Netflix seems convinced that the only real way to make money is by letting people eventually watch from home, but that doesn't explain why Netflix is giving Noah Baumbach's unappealing "White Noise" three more weeks of theatrical exclusivity than they are this.

I would also like someone to explain to Netflix that people aren't so dumb that they need to put the words "Knives Out" in the title. Even Disney didn't go so far as to release a film called "Death on the Nile: A Murder on the Orient Express Mystery." Morons. Still, I'll give Netflix this much. The movie actually looks like it cost some money, aside from the salaries of its director and star. The locales are exotic and the sets are elaborate. Nice to see that this wasn't shot on the same four sets that they use for everything from "The Gray Man" to "The Old Guard." Netflix may not know how to run a streaming platform, but if this is how they want to spend their money then I can muster up some nice words for them. Johnson shouldn't have to be tied up with this franchise for this entire career, but I'm definitely up for more of them. The whodunit genre is in much better hands with him than it was with the makers of "See How They Run" or Kenneth Branagh. When it comes to who killed the murder mystery genre, there's no end to the list of suspects, but now I have a little more hope that Rian Johnson might be able to save it.

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