Whether you’re a detective or a director, taking on a new case is always tricky. The last time Rian Johnson made a sequel (2017’s The Last Jedi), he nearly broke the internet, or at least the corner of it that likes to argue about Star Wars; the last time gentleman detective Benoit Blanc solved a case (in 2019’s Knives Out, Johnson’s part love letter to, part subversion of the Agatha Christie murder-mystery genre), he nearly fell into a metaphorical doughnut-hole.
This follow-up to Knives Out — the first of a massive, multi-million-dollar deal made with Netflix — establishes the Christie-esque precedent that Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is the only recurring element in the series; a new case and a new cast of characters will appear each time. So as much as this is technically a sequel, it feels more like the latest entry in an ongoing anthology, a singular story that can be enjoyed purely on its own terms.
That’s not to say there aren’t commonalities with the original, and in fact this is very much more of the same: a delightful retread of everything that made Knives Out so deeply satisfying. There is, once again, a mysterious crime that self-awarely references the genre as it goes (the first film was set in a crime novelist’s home, mirroring the author’s fictional crimes; this is set during a weekend-long murder-mystery game). There are bodies and blood-splatters. There are twists and misdirects, rewarding repeat watchers. There is a final summation and big reveal, in the equivalent of a drawing room.
Johnson opts for a completely different setting here: a summer holiday gone wrong.
But it all looks and feels markedly different, and not just in the budget flexes Netflix can now afford. Where Knives Out was a claustrophobic, autumnal, New England kind of whodunnit— evoking the gothic suspense of Sleuth or the arch wit of Clue — Johnson opts for a completely different setting here: a summer holiday gone wrong, his take on Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery, or more accurately, Stephen Sondheim’s The Last Of Sheila (and Sondheim in fact earns a brief, brilliant posthumous nod in this film).
This time, too, Blanc is no longer “merely a passive obsuh-vuh of the truth” — he’s an active player in the case. A character previously introduced in an out-of-focus background shot now comes to the foreground: we learn a little about his personal life, his insecurities, his proclivity for taking long baths while wearing a fez, and his extensive collection of linen neckerchiefs.
As such, he feels more rounded as a character, both narratively — Johnson is keen to emphasise his empathy and wisdom — and comedically, blessed with more delicious “Southern hokum”, as Blanc himself self-deprecatingly puts it. (Those who enjoyed the “doughnut holes” of the first film will take particular succour in the way Craig repeatedly wraps his lips around the word “buttress”.) Spending time in Blanc’s company remains a singular pleasure, and if this is to be an ongoing affair, as it appears to be, there’s every chance Blanc will be as defining a role for Craig as Bond.
It is, fundamentally, a proper crowd-pleaser.
He is surrounded, naturally, by another superb collection of potential murderers/murder victims, Johnson once again showing his knack for drawing from an embarrassment of acting riches. (If anything, it’s too good a cast, with superlative talents like Kathryn Hahn given less to do.) You could pick a different favourite each time you think about it, but particular praise must go to Janelle Monáe, showing versatile comedy chops for the first time in a complex role that requires both drunken pratfalls and if-looks-could-kill stares; and Kate Hudson, having a blast as an endlessly cancelled fashionista with a penchant for tweeting racial slurs.
They are all extremely funny, and with that change of scenery from the first film comes a change of tone, lightening as the weather brightens. The first film seemed like a mystery with some comic peppering; this feels more like a comedy first, mystery second. Sometimes there’s a slight sense that the wackiness could have been reined in a little — there are, by our count, nine celebrity cameos drizzled throughout, plus cheeky references to celebrity product endorsements, which begins to feel a little overindulgent.
More often, though, it offers a sack of onions’ worth of fun, as uproarious as the best comedies. Importantly, too, the laughs are buttressed — there’s that word again — by a gorgeously constructed script, a maze-like narrative that unfurls slowly and gratifyingly like a puzzle box (appropriate, given the film begins with a literal puzzle box). If the denouement doesn’t quite have the same sting of surprise as the first film’s, you will still leave feeling supremely satisfied. It is, fundamentally, a proper crowd-pleaser, and best experienced with one. To misquote Blanc: it just makes damn sense. On to the next case!