The 2019 film Knives Out holds a weird spot in my mind in that I basically enjoyed it quite a bit and consider its success to have been a net positive for the film industry, and yet I didn’t really love it or take it terribly seriously and found it odd when I saw people put it on their annual top ten lists and the like. Honestly I kind of feel that way about the whole “whodunit” genre, which I tend to like more in the aggregate than in its individual examples. I can, for instance, say that Agatha Christie was a master of her form while not really considering any of her books are some sort of masterpiece of literature. They tend to be pretty enjoyable while you watch them but they don’t really stick with you and that would certainly be the case with Knives Out. Additionally, Knives Out was the work of Rian Johnson, a filmmaker who has spent much of his career walking a line between clever and irritating and while he mostly stayed on the clever side of the line with that move he stepped over into “irritating” on occasion. Despite that, it was a good movie despite some elements that annoyed me and it seemed like a foregone conclusion and I was interested to see them. But then in a plot twist it was revealed that the sequels would not be made by the original film’s distributor, Lionsgate, but would instead be produced by Netflix. So now what should be the one successful modern franchise to not involve dudes in capes is only going to spend one week in theaters before spending the rest of its life on a streaming service.
Though this is ostensibly a sequel, it discards all the characters from the original Knives Out aside from the central detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he becomes embroiled in a new mystery. This one is set in the spring of 2020 and looks at a party being thrown by the eccentric millionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) at his island estate dubbed “The Glass Onion.” This party is meant to be a faux murder mystery, which seems to be why Blanc has been summoned but the rest of the guests are old friends of Bron including the governor of Connecticut (Kathryn Hahn), the head scientist at Bron’s company Alpha (Leslie Odom Jr.), a rather dimwitted fashion designer (Kate Hudson) along with her long suffering PR head (Jessica Henwick), an alt-right “influencer” (Dave Bautista), his wife (Madelyn Cline), and most surprisingly Bron’s former partner in business Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), who had been on the outs with the whole group ever since being ousted from Alpha in some sort of dramatic fashion. Things seem to be going more or less as planned but the dinner murder mystery Bron has planned doesn’t go quite as he’d hoped and suddenly the mystery starts to be less fictional and more dangerous than expected.
One of the biggest problems I had with the original Knives Out was the Benoit Blanc character and Daniel Craig’s performance in the role. Having Daniel Craig play this part with a ludicrous southern accent like he walked off the set of a community theater production of a Tennessee Williams play is just not a joke I get and I’m not sure why more people don’t have a problem with it. My opinion about that hasn’t changed here but I do quite like the rest of the cast. Janelle Monáe is a real standout in the movie, especially after the first act, when additional dimensions are revealed about the character. The other standout is probably Kate Hudson, who’s character is just a hilariously vapid ditz, the kind of person who’d get in trouble for a Halloween costume and not understand why people didn’t understand her “tribute” to Beyoncé. Edward Norton also manages to really tap into his character’s narcissism and there’s also good work from Kathryn Hahn, Jessica Henwick, and Leslie Odom Jr. Really the only person I didn’t care for here was Dave Bautista, who I think was a bit miscast as his character is supposed to be this over-compensating wimp rather than a true man’s man and casting a dude who looks like The Incredible Hulk kind of plays against that.
The other big complaint I had about Knives Out was that some of the humor, particularly a strange character trait involving vomit, struck me as kind of dumb and contrived. There are a couple of similar contrivances here that I won’t elaborate on for fear of spoilers, but there’s nothing as egregious as that. There was, of course, also humor in that first movie that worked, particularly its elements of social satire around the mores of upper middle class old money types. That element is even stronger here, but the targets are now the worst habits of the modern nouveau riche, particularly the lifestyle of its central character who is almost certainly based on Elon Musk. It is perhaps a rich irony that this movie, which is clearly about how much of a dick Musk is, is coming out right when he’s really come mask off as a truly malignant presence in the world with his acquisition of Twitter. It’s ironic because in many ways this is a movie that kind of feels like it was made to impress people who are what you’d call “massively online” and who spend a lot of time on that “bird app.” The suspects here are broadly representative of the biggest villains on Twitter: Musk, normie insincere politicians, red pill types, imminently cancelable “influencers,” etc. I of course don’t like those people either, but I kind of know when I’m being pandered to, and these are kind of easy targets. On that level I think the first Knives Out might be the more accessible and restrained work and I think the solution to its mystery is a bit cleverer. On the other hand, this movie has a cooler set and is generally more confident and is just generally funnier so it’s a bit of a draw. I think I’ll more or less leave it at that, I still don’t think this really rises to the point of being some of the year’s finest cinema or anything but it’s a very fun time and I kind of wish I lived in times when that felt less like the exception.
***1/2 out of Five