“It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.”
Knives Out was a delightful surprise that absolutely did not require a sequel, so I approached Netflix’s acquistion of the rights to multiple further movies with some trepidation. The prepostrously accented detective Benoit Blanc is the only returning character, Daniel Craig clearly continuing to enjoy himself in a less physically demanding role. No time is wasted in establishing the conceit, a group of influencers and disruptors receiving elaborate invitations from a tech billionaire to an island party, providing ample fodder for further satire of the wealthy and feckless. If Knives Out was Rian Johnson remixing the traditional elements of a whodunit, with Glass Onion he instead subverts the structure entirely, resolving one mystery midway through the proceedings and then rewinding so that we see events unfold with more information and an entirely new perspective. Johnson once again assembles an excellent ensemble cast, though Janelle Monáe is the standout. Events may unfold on a sun-drenched island rather than in an ominous mansion, but returning cinematographer Steve Yedlin provides visual continuity along with the similarly meticulous mise-en-scène, some of which is sadly lost on the small screen (Glass Onion recieved only a one week limited theatrical release in order to qualify for awards). Establishing the form’s return, this is the third high profile whodunit of 2022, following Death on the Nile and See How They Run — of the three Glass Onion is by far the most ambitious and the most successful.
“The choice is an illusion. You already know what you have to do.”
Even with Hollywood’s penchant for the safety of franchise films and nostalgia, resurrecting this long-dormant series that had already steadily declined in quality came as something of a surprise, particularly as a sequel and not a wholesale reboot. The Matrix Resurrections seems equally awkward with this role, its opening act a self-aware, borderline parody as “Mr Anderson” finds himself developing a videogame sequel, complete with focus group survey results exploring the disparate reasons fans have been drawn to The Matrix, above all originality and freshness. It is bizarre but genuinely fun, and seems almost an apology for the turgid mess that follows. To her credit, Lana Wachowski (this time directing solo) does not simply retread old ground and chooses to examine the relationship between Neo and Trinity, exploring the extent to which our choices and identity are actually dependent on others. The first half of the film presents a compelling mystery as we try to understand how Neo and Trinity have survived and where they are, seemingly reinserted into the Matrix but robbed of their memories. Unfortunately the answers are underwhelming, arriving halfway into the film, and the second half is a real slog with the promise of an action-heavy resolution never really materialising. I have also never seen a sequel make such heavy use of previous footage, sometimes as fragmented memories, sometimes literally projected onto a set whilst similar events unfold. This tight link to the past makes reviving Morpheus and Agent Smith without their original actors all the more egregious. Astonishingly, given franchise’s reputation, there is not a single memorable action set piece in the entire film. People shoot a lot of automatic weapons, Keanu throws out protective forcefields from his hands, and a helicoptor hits a building again. The world of The Matrix always felt densely populated, both in the simulation and in Zion. Now it all feels like empty déjà vu.
After a cynical opening look at the hookup culture facilitated by dating apps, the film follows a new couple who want a more meaningful connection despite meeting after they change their statuses in exasperation to “DTF”. Concerned about boredom in the absence of new experiences, the couple start to experiment, flirting with others and then taking it further. The setup is ripe for an intriguing exploration of polyamory in the modern world and the film’s middle act seems to be leaning in that direction. Sadly, the desire for a more conventional conclusion requires it to abandon this more interesting avenue. Ironically, then, there is little new here. The most compelling ideas come from the older man Gabi meets, whose transactional view of relationships is unromantic and yet more realistic than anything else on display.