Glass Onion – London Film Festival review

Here’s another clue for you all…

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Glass Onion A Knives Out Mystery
CR: Netflix

Dir. Rian Johnson, distributed by Netflix

The murder mystery film has been going through something of a revival lately, from Kenneth Branagh’s overwrought Agatha Christie adaptations, Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Death on the Nile (2022), to Tom George’s enjoyably self-aware See How They Run (2022). But none have matched the ingenuity of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (2019), which twisted the conventions of the whodunnit into something refreshingly contemporary and unashamedly joyful. This new sequel, Glass Onion, cements Johnson’s status as the modern master of the genre, painting a more complex mystery onto a bigger and brighter canvas.

Daniel Craig’s preposterous detective Benoit Blanc returns, in the actor’s first post-007 role, alongside a new ensemble cast of eccentric suspects. Craig is having the time of his life, slipping so comfortably into his absurd accent and dandyish wardrobe that it’s hard to imagine him any other way. Meanwhile, Edward Norton is an admirably dislikeable presence as asinine tech billionaire Miles Bron, whose elaborate murder mystery party on his private Greek island takes a disastrous turn. Janelle Monáe is probably given the most to do as the enigmatic party guest Cassandra Brand, pealing back new layers to her performance as the film unfolds, and her chemistry with Craig is superb. No performance here, however, stands out as singly as Ana De Armas’ revelatory turn in Knives Out, and the ensemble never quite glues together as comfortably as they did in the first instalment. Outside the core cast, there are a few hilariously unexpected cameos which invite the film’s biggest laughs.

Johnson’s serpentine script is exquisitely structured for such a complex affair, moving deftly between multiple timelines, flashbacks, and subjective points-of-view without feeling convoluted. Some clever cinematic slight-of-hand leaves the audience in doubt of what they did and didn’t see, much like Blanc and his suspects. Admittedly, the plot’s machinations become a little obvious following a second-act reveal, and the climax takes a crude turn which seems to borrow more from the 2008 Bond film Quantum of Solace than it does anything by Agatha Christie.

Like Knives Out before it, there’s a bulging vein of political satire running throughout Glass Onion; Johnson takes repeated, mocking swipes at the volatile dividing lines of contemporary America, and the privileged elite who exploit these fractures for their own benefit. It’s undeniably a funny film, but perhaps not quite as funny as it thinks it is. Many of the script’s punchlines require a working knowledge of online culture wars and social media discourse, and there’s a knowing smugness to this brand of comedy which becomes grating.

Similarly self-aware, but more welcome, is Nathan Johnson’s lavishly melodic score, which pays homage to classics of the whodunnit genre like Richard Rodney Bennett’s work on Murder on the Orient Express (1974). The soundtrack is augmented by a number of immensely satisfying needle-drops, from David Bowie to Nat King Cole. Beatles fans whose interest has been piqued by the film’s title will not leave disappointed.

An unabashed crowd-pleaser, Glass Onion is filled with moments which are sure to have cinema audiences roaring. It’s a shame, then, that Netflix are only permitting a limited, week-long theatrical window before the film is consigned to their streaming service. Do yourself a favour and find a big screen to look through the Glass Onion while you still can.

Verdict

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Another fun whodunnit, even if some of the charm has worn off since last time