To say that I am a fan of Whodunnits would be underselling by a mile. Growing up watching Clue on endless repeat so much that I wore out my VHS copy, it no longer works (although I still own it). I was spoonfed at the table of Scooby-Doo, the 70’s version that ran on Cartoon Network endlessly in the 90s, eventually evolving into my love of Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, and yes, even a place for Angela Lansbury. There is no shortage of great detectives and I have loved and watched them all. But none came as close as Clue, the ensemble cast, the hilarious antics, and most of all, an astonishing whodunnit that supplied the viewers with multiple endings. There is always a hoard of red herrings in these mysteries, mostly due to motive, keeping the detective just out of reach from the real killer as they make their deductions. Clue took the stress out of it, why not make three different endings! The audience most assuredly has played along and made their own conclusions, so let’s take the audience for a ride and bring them into the game. The likes have never been seen since, yes, there have been great ensemble casts with great detectives and even mouth-dropping endings, but bringing the audience along, with a wink and a nod as subtle as Poirot’s mustache, was lightning in a bottle.
There have been attempts with varying results, but none would stand the test of time. Notably, Murder By Death is a joke a minute 70s film that is great in its own right, but the sands of time have not been kind, and the less than casual racism can stay in the past. Tracking the whodunnit timeline, you can’t skip it, and eventually, that line leads to Glass Onion.
Rian Johnson is back in that same milieu, this time there is a playfulness and a breezy bravura that is damn near infectious. His first outing with the debonair Benoit Blanc in Knives Out was a success at just about every level. It was a deconstruction of the genre, told in a fresh way, but still, one beholden to the genre it so refreshingly fits into. The first mystery certainly had its humor and its own certain panache, but I could still not shake that it was more or less a ‘straightforward’ whodunnit, again, not without its fresh approach, but one that fits into the oeuvre as a whole.
It certainly seemed like an uphill battle to follow up on Knives Out, but boy oh boy, how Rian Johnson has outdone himself. There are still the familiar tropes, but I find that more like a warm blanket, waiting for me at my favorite reading chair. Johnson has weaponized the genre and turned it on its head, only this time, he’s upping the bonkers, and it works. Starting with the cast, then the location, and ending with the plot, there is not a single element to this film that isn’t a near-perfect example of what fans want and expect out of a whodunnit. He has taken great care to craft an experience for the audience, giving us those not-so-subtle winks, and laughing with us at the perfect place to turn out all the lights. We also get a lot more Benoit Blanc, hamming (in the best way) it up and going on rants about the stupid game of Clue. All throughout you feel well taken care of, and as a fan, seen. Boasting one of the best ensembles with Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, and the ever-present Noah Segan. Hilarious cameos abound (yet another important genre element knocked out of the park).
As the story ramps up to its climax all the threads so carefully placed are so creatively tied together that there is no doubt that multiple viewings will bring even more satisfaction. The often laugh-out-loud antics that are so specific to the brand bring a charm that those lost in the nostalgia for the whodunnits like Clue will be greatly rewarded. It’s not like they figured it out in 1985, but that is when it was done the best, and then all the copies of copies diluted the genre and it was lost for a time.
Glass Onion not only exceeds as a better film than its predecessor but more importantly, exceeds as a standout amongst the wealth of whodunnits that have come before, and thankfully because of Johnson’s loving care, much more to come.
5 out of 5