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Dan Webster reviews " Glass Onion"

It’s not often that a movie sequel lives up to the original. “The Godfather II,” “Toy Story 2” and “Aliens” are evidence that it does sometimes happen. Most sequels, though, end up being quick-hit attempts to cash in on a proven, often surprising, box-office success — which as the late screenwriter William Goldman told us is never a sure thing in the film industry.

Long before writing and directing his 2019 comic murder mystery “Knives Out” — a film that critic David Erlich referred to as “a crackling, devious and hugely satisfying old-school whodunnit with a modern twist” — Rian Johnson had established himself as a filmmaking talent.

On the small-film scale he wrote and directed the 2005 indie drama “Brick,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Just a dozen years later Johnson had graduated to blockbuster status by directing and co-writing (with George Lucas) 2017’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi.”

So, it was no surprise that he was able to score the funding to make “Knives Out.” Not to mention attract a cast that included the likes of Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, Chris “Captain America” Evans, LaKeith Stanfield and the soon to be ex-James Bond Daniel Craig.

Like Johnson, Craig had been around and was, in fact, known for far more than playing his own steely eyed version of the familiar British assassin with a license to kill. Even so, his performance in “Knives Out” was something different. Craig’s character, private detective Benoit Blanc, is a Deep South variation on Hercule Poirot, kind of like a cross between the mustachioed French detective and Tennessee Williams.

Craig returns as Blanc in “Glass Onion,” which carries the tagline “A Knives Out Mystery,” just so we don’t get confused, and he is the lone holdover from the original. This time he is joined by Edward Norton, who plays the multi-billionaire Miles Bron. Seems Bron has invited a group of friends to his private island in Greece for what is supposed to be a weekend of fun, food and a murder-mystery game.

The group, tagged collectively by Bron as “The Disruptors” for reasons that soon become clear, includes characters played by Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr. Along with them, though, are a couple of hangers-on, a woman with whom Bron had once had a serious professional falling-out (played by Janelle Monáe),— and, of course, Blanc.

Which naturally proves timely because pretty soon there is a bona-fide suspicious death — or maybe two — for Blanc to investigate.

As with all such mysteries, old-school or no, “Glass Onion” — which takes its name from Bron’s onion-shaped glass mansion — fingers are pointed in every direction, and Blanc makes a number of logical deductions before everything is wrapped up. Johnson, though, cleverly throws in a flashback sequence halfway through that gives new meaning to everything that has gone on before, including introducing— or maybe reintroducing? — a new character.

All of this is imbued with a veneer of cultural criticism involving the profligacy and greed of the 1 percent, unscrupulous financial dealings, and the absurd lengths to which social-media influencing have gone. But don’t fret: As with his original “Knives Out,” Johnson isn’t interested in delivering an extended editorial screed.

Instead, he’s simply using contemporary references (can you say Elon Musk?) the same way he uses music to underscore what he puts on the screen. Throughout the film’s running time you’ll hear snatches of everything from Bach’s “Little Fugue in G Minor” to The Bee Gees “To Love Somebody” to Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa” to, of course, The Beatles tune “Glass Onion.”

And if Johnson at times goes a bit too far, just as Craig’s accent on occasion gets a bit too clownishly thick, it’s all in good fun. In any event, there’s already a third “Knives Out” film in pre-production.

As the saying goes, things tend to come in threes. In Hollywood, sometimes those things are even good.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.

“Movies 101” host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for