Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery ★★★★

Look, I'll put it plainly: I love the whodunit. The quintessential form of the murder mystery, in which we're introduced to a terrible person, soon to become a victim, alongside a host of plausible suspects who have motive and opportunity to wish said victim harm, is just a delightful format. Whether in book or film, it's like a puzzle box come to life. From the Christies (like Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None) to the parodies (Murder By Death, Death Trap, Clue). I love the way giallos (and later slashers, like Scream) took the best elements of the whodunit and put them in a horror format. And I love the more modern revisionist stuff like Hot Fuzz.

The genre was in a bit of a lull when Knives Out hit and invested it with a new round of life. It instantly became one of my favorites, with a great puzzle, a fiendishly fun cast of interesting characters, and a fantastic sense of humor. The movie's unexpected success was, I think, why we saw so many new whodunits hitting this year, from the Death on the Nile remake to Amsterdam to See How They Run... and now, this, the sequel to Knives Out itself. And hey, like I said before, I love the whodunit, so I enjoyed pretty much all of these (Amsterdam being a notable exception).

Glass Onion doesn't rise to the level of its predecessor. This is expected of a sequel, which naturally lacks the freshness of the original. But even aside from that, it's not as tightly plotted and the cast of suspects was a bit weaker (Kathryn Hahn's character was especially bland; I get that she was filling the suburban soccer mom role, but it could have benefitted from some of her WandaVision energy). Still had a blast with it, though. It was a fun puzzle box to solve, and the sense of humor from the original carried forth splendidly. It gave us not one but two scenes where the detective laid everything out, and those are always a highlight in the whodunit. Benoit Blanc is earning himself a spot on the pantheon of great murder mystery detectives with his stylish, intelligence, and quirks (his foiling of Bron's game, and his rants about the board game Clue, were particular highlights for me). The cinematic convention of replaying scenes from a different perspective, recontextualizing what we thought we knew and saw, has always been one I've enjoyed; it's used to great effect here. And Janelle Monae is fantastic all throughout the film.

Like me, I think, Rian Johnson loves the whodunit. While this film is full of funny cameos and pop culture references, it's also full of reverence for the murder mystery's storied history. It plays tribute to two icons who didn't live to see its release and notes the way they inspired Johnson: Angela Lansbury, the star of Murder, She Wrote (whose J. B. Fletcher is already on that pantheon of great murder mystery detectives) and also one of the suspects of the original Death on the Nile; and Stephen Sondheim, who is familiar to most people thanks to his theatrical works, but I suspect Johnson was most inspired by the whodunit Sondheim wrote with his partner Anthony Perkins, the hugely entertaining comedic murder mystery The Last of Sheila -- which also involved a wealthy man wanting to play a game of murder with his "friends." And the invitations sent to all the suspects, and the core plot conceit of the film, reminded me a great deal of Christie's A Murder Is Announced (not one of her all-time greats, but still one of my personal favorites of her Ms. Marple books).

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