“Glass Onion” (shown here) is that rare movie that almost everyone would like … and that Stephen Sondheim would have loved.
Sondheim was a big puzzle buff. He even paused his Broadway-musical chores to co-write “The Last of Sheila” (1973), in which a conniving mogul hosts an exotic vacation filled with mysteries and secrets. Rian Johnson has said that was one of his inspirations for writing and direction “Onion,” the brilliant “Knives Out” sequel that has just arrived on Netflix.
Johnson also sort of borrows from Agatha Christie and other mystery masters. But as always, he makes it all bigger, brighter, better and, at times, funnier.
A tech mogul has invited his former colleagues to an island retreat to, he says, “solve my murder.” Christie preferred dreary mansions, but Johnson thinks visually. The architecture of this island home is impressive; so are the torsos of two guests, played by Madelyn Cline and wrestler Dave Bautista.
But unlike others, Johnson starts the games early. Even the invitations are puzzles-within-puzzles; “Glass Onion” is fun before the actual story begins.
British mysteries often have a moment when an all-knowing detective– a Holmes or Poirot – explains everything. Johnson does that, too … but in the first third of the film, He has bigger stories to tell.
The party includes people who know each other, plus the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, shown here), the only character returning from “Knives Out.” At first, we don’t know why he’s here; neither does the host (Edward Norton).
This host is a tech guy who is considered a genius because he got rich. We soon learn he’s full of vague theories and doesn’t know when to stop. And yes, Johnson wrote this before Elon Musk imploded.
“Glass Onion” hits the re-set button a few times – especially to reveal why the detective is here and, later, to step aside for the long, messy finish.
That’s sort of like the way Marvel movies have prolonged battle-scene finales. I could have done without this one, but it provides a big finish to a terrific movie.
The cast is first-rate, including Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick … and a superb performance by Janelle Monae. She’s already won at least four supporting-actress awards for this and deserves an Oscar.
Others pop up briefly – funny bits with Serena Williams and Yo Yo Ma, a surprising one with Hugh Grant and an early Zoom call that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Natasha Lyonne, the late Angela Lansbury … and the late Stephen Sondheim. This would have been his favorite film.