IN SELECTED CINEMAS until November 30th
ON NETFLIX: December 23rd
RUNNING TIME: 139 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Famed detective Benoit Blanc isn’t having a good time. Lockdown has meant that he hasn’t had cases to solve and, while he now spends many hours playing the mystery game Clue with his friends Stephen Sondheim, Angela Lansbury, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he’s not very good at it. However, things change when he gets a wooden box delivered to his door, though five other people also get boxes arriving at their home, the reward for opening them being an invitation to a murder mystery party on the Greek island home of billionaire and CEO of technology company Alpha Industries Miles Bron, who’s developing a risky hydrogen-based alternative fuel source, which he calls Klear. Miles can’t understand why Benoit is there as he never sent him an introduction, but he knows the other well; they’ve all been recipients of Miles’s funding which helped launch them into careers, but also have reasons to want to take revenge on him….
Well all that probably sounds a bit all over the place, and indeed this sequel to Knives Out [reviewed by David S. Smith here] a surprise and welcome hit in these depressing days of big special effects movies, usually with superheroes, totally dominating the box office, really is exactly that. Verbal and visual references to lockdown thankfully vanish after a while but are they really appropriate for escapist fun that isn’t meant to be taken that seriously such as this? Celebrity cameos do indeed add to the entertainment value but the pop culture references of several kinds become too frequent and are one of several disappointing signs that writer/director Rian Johnson, as inconsistent a talent as there ever was, didn’t think that the conventions of the Agatha Christie-inspired pastiche of Benoit Blanche’s first adventure were quite enough on their own for a follow-up. As you can also probably tell from my introductory synopsis, naughty Bron is almost straight out of an earlier James Bond movie, though the premise otherwise does remain initially traditional, utilising the oft-used idea of somebody inviting friends to a faraway location for fun and games. 1972’s The Last Of Sheila initially seems to be a major influence; in fact please go and watch it, it’s a very fine film example of how to do this sort of thing right. I digress a little, though this may not be the first time since I don’t tend to review films I’ve disliked as often these days so I almost feel new to it. But, despite what is apparently a fairly positive critical reception, there wasn’t really much for the Doc to enjoy except for most of the performances and some of the humour, though the latter takes over too much at times. And it didn’t even provide him with the tools to solve the mystery if he wanted to try. Instead it walks through its plot, withholding information to then have big reveals, though it’s not rewarding when you discover how simple things really are at the end.
So it’s 2020 and lockdown and mask-wearing are in order, and I still can’t fathom why Johnson thought to include this depressing dash of grim reality in what is essentially a lark. For a few awful moments it seems that much of the film will take place with the horrid sight of most of the cast wearing masks, but along comes some kind of spray which goes into the neck and therefore presumably [we’re not told how it works] prevents infection or spreading or something. Hurray! The traditional introduction of characters and suspects is handled through the arrival of seemingly impenetrable wooden boxes delivered to the five friends of the extremely rich and immediately-shady-before-we meet-him Miles Bron. Of course there’s Benoit, who doesn’t know any of the others. Duke Cody s a pistol-packing testosterone-fueled Twitch “influencer” who has a girlfriend Whiskey who initially seems bimbo-ish until it’s revealed that she’s actually very bright, though she was once in a relationship with Miles which could bring trouble. Claire Debella, a for-sale ambitious politician with seemingly no real integrity who’s now the governor of Connecticut. Lionel Toussaint, the genius tech inventor working for Miles’s Alpha Industries who constantly receives middle-of-the-night faxes from Miles. Bron’s former business partner Cassandra “Andi” Brand who was outmaneuvered in very dirty fashion by Miles. And model-turned-fashion designer Birdie Jay who’s been blocked from social media by her assistant Peg because she’s straight-talking and not woke, something which the script sadly seems to support. So here we have a Hollywood movie which seems to support cancel culture. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, but those of us who believe in free speech have yet more reason to be worried.
Each person solves the intricate puzzles required to open the box, it being Duke’s mother who excels as a puzzle whiz in the most comical manner – actually no, maybe Andi’s is funnier. When they arrive at the island to which they’ve been invited, Miles is baffled by Benoit’s admission that he’d received an invitation, as only five were sent out, but allows him to stay after Benoit suggests that Miles may be a target for an actual murder. Andi has the most reason to dislike Miles, having supposedly written down the core ideas for Alpha but coming off terribly in an explosive lawsuit, but the others also have issues with him even though he used to part of their group which used to meet in a bar called the Glass Onion, which is also the name Miles has given the glass centre of his house which now houses the [real] Mona Lisa because of a significant loan that Miles gave the Louvre. He also financially helped them all in the past. In a few weeks, Miles will be launching this dodgy hydrogen-based fuel Klear, which he says the entire island runs on, but Lionel is irate, having previously told Miles that the substance was at least two years away from being proven stable, while Claire secretly signed off on the power plant that will develop Klear to be built, believing it was on the same timeline as Lionel. Peg begs Miles to not force Birdie into making a statement that she knew her clothing line was developed in a notorious sweatshop, Birdie being so stupid that she gets the term “sweatshop” wrong, while Whiskey tries to seduce Miles into giving Duke a bigger audience at Alpha News. Due to his brilliance, Benoit spoils the murder-mystery party Miles has planned almost before it starts, but then a real murder occurs, somebody drinking poison so it might have been from a glass meant for Miles.
After a first section which is extremely leisurely, though to be fair not as leisurely as some of the much older murder mystery movies, things do certainly ramp up – before we suddenly flash back to events some time before, telling us how Benoit really got involved in this case, what Andi’s real game is, and other things. It’s an interesting structure, and maybe somebody like Quentin Tarantino could have made it work [oh my god, how great would it be if he made a film in this genre, Quentin are you reading this?], but Johnson is unable to successfully pull it off, partly because the first flashback takes place just as the film has become really fast, resulting in a jolt and us having to suddenly now adjust to a different pace. The plot offers more surprises as it gradually gets to its final act by which times it almost seems like we’re watching a film in a different genre, with science-fictional elements and lots of CGI. One supposedly dramatic scene has a character smashing lots of things, mostly but not entirely glass statues, after which others follow. Maybe Johnson, who employed obvious political allegory in Knives Out, intended some sort of statement with the scene seeing how long he dwells on it, though elsewhere all we get are jabs at the rich who are just Not Very Nice. Who knew? However, the strangest thing about that scene is that it, and some others, take place after the murderer has been revealed, with Benoit barely involved. But then the revelation is only surprising because the script has barely tried to make you think, the viewer soon getting used to the way that we don’t need to do such a thing because instead we know we’ll get a revelation every now and again. Johnson’s idea of cleverness is to turn the film into a literal game of Clue for a while. And perhaps the greatest appeal in whodunnit movies – when you feel you’ve bought into a somewhat convincing theory that you develop in your mind only to end up getting totally fooled at the final reveal – is barely there, with any potential solutions being highly underdeveloped. But then much of the story remains that way despite the fairly lengthy running time, suggesting that the screenplay was cranked out in a hurry.
So what’s good? Well Craig is simply terrific, admittedly playing it even lighter than before but then he’s clearly relaxing into the role and his approach certainly jells with the general approach. His anger at Miles’s patented drink which mixes whisky and pineapple juice is a highlight – I share the sentiment. His southern America accent is both more convincing and more – well – I guess “saucy” is the word. I wonder if he’s broken the “curse” of the James Bond actors, which had even Sean Connery, despite the number of great roles which he played, always being known predominately as oo7? A great foil for his verbal performing is Edward Norton as Miles, who uses words incorrectly or makes them up, something which really pisses off Benoit. Norton ends up going way over the top but again this is what the film probably required. Also going over the top is Kate Hudson as Birdie, clearly going along with the agenda offered by the script. Janella Monae, playing Andi, is fifth billed, but surely, despite Dave Bautista showing a reasonable flair for deadpan comedy as Duke, she should have been at least third billed, seeing as Andi becomes the other chief character we end up identifying with. Andi’s relationship with Benoit becomes the real heart of the film, she surprising him with her detecting skills and intuition even though he’s not too keen on the way she needs some booze to properly function – but then he has weaknesses too. Kathryn Hahn seems underused as Claire. I won’t reveal all the cameos but Ethan Hawke is great in a lovely little role; the laughs he gets may be cheap but I certainly fell victim, while an “appearance” by Serena Williams got a decent number of people chuckling in the cinema showing that I attended.
This is the thing. Johnson [ignoring the odd pandemic references] clearly intended a real fun experience, but he evidently got lost and felt it was necessary to cram in as much as he could. This is a real shame considering how well he pulled off Knives Out, something which certainly surprised me after his borderline disastrous episode in the You Know What franchise. Steve Yedlin’s cinematography is nice and smooth even though he thinks that panning past characters shot through glass is so clever that he does it several times, while Nathan Johnson’s music score is a nice plus, possibly overused by modern standards outside of animated movies but clearly trying to bring some cohesion to the piece. But overall Glass Onion is a major letdown, the only compelling mystery it offers being why it was thought it would work in the form that it’s in. However, despite what I said earlier, I didn’t digress much, did I?