In 2019, the world was treated to the sensational murder/mystery Knives Out, written/directed by Rian Johnson. It was a witty, clever, twisty whodunit, starring a tremendous all-star cast. Entertaining, funny and unpredictable, it is no shock that it became a hit. In 2021, Netflix shelled out some serious money to get the rights to two sequels, also written/directed by Johnson, and bringing back Daniel Craig as master detective Benoit Blanc.
The first of those sequels is Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Netflix has such high hopes for it that they made an unprecedented deal with the three largest theater chains in the United States to carry it in theaters for one week, before it drops on the streamer on December 23. Those hopes were well-placed.
Glass Onion (131 minutes, without the end credits) is also funny, clever and twisty, using the same tone and narrative approach, as well as once again centering things on the lengths people will go to for money. The cast is completely new, save for Craig, and almost as strong, though it is hard to top the work of Ana de Armas and Chris Evans from the original. Knives Out seemed pretty self-contained, to the point that a follow-up sounded superfluous. As it turns out, Johnson had several impressive tricks up his sleeve. Glass Onion is just as enjoyable of a diversion now as its predecessor was three years ago.
In the middle of the pandemic, an uber-wealthy tech genius invites his oldest friends to his private island for a reunion, followed by an elaborately devised murder-mystery game. The festivities are interrupted by a real murder and everyone is a suspect.
Johnson’s writing, with its narrative trickery and crafty surprises, is really the star of these movies. He clearly charts out motives, alibis, secrets and reveals like other directors storyboard action scenes. There is a lot going on here, but it never gets confusing. Even more importantly, it all pays off. Things that seem pointless in the moment turn out to have great significance and potential plot-holes seal themselves off when everything is known. It is fun simply to observe how the pieces he has assembled fall into place.
A lot of the excitement in a movie like this involves seeing how the story unfolds, so that is enough about the plot. Instead, let’s look at the cast that has been brought together this time. There is Edward Norton as the host for the weekend. He has an oblivious zen vibe to him that is amusing. Kate Hudson is quite funny as a fashion icon who is constantly on the verge of being canceled for her thoughtless social media posts. Jessica Henwick is her exasperated assistant. Kathryn Hahn is a beloved liberal senator. Leslie Odom Jr. is a brilliant scientist. Dave Bautista is another highlight as a gun-toting, macho, Twitch streamer. Madelyn Cline plays his arm-candy girlfriend. Finally, Janelle Monáe is the Norton character’s former business partner, who nobody expected to make the trip.
Then there is Daniel Craig, again stealing the show as an incredible sleuth who disarms people with his folksy charm. He is basically the protagonist here, unlike in the original, which was mostly seen through the eyes of the de Armas character. That gives this a bit of a different flavor because Blanc is always thinking, deducing, adjusting his suspicions. Plus, Craig plays it like he knows this is ridiculous and is having as much fun as humanly possible with it.
I am admittedly not a huge fan of franchises. I prefer something new, rather than a good thing repeated merely because it was successful, even if the filmmakers have no new ideas. However, if we get Rian Johnson directing a great cast, joining Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, in a new mystery every couple of years, I will be very pleased. These movies are delightful.
4¼ out of 5
Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc
Janelle Monáe as Andi Brand
Edward Norton as Miles Bron
Kate Hudson as Birdie Jay
Dave Bautista as Duke Cody
Kathryn Hahn as Claire Debella
Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel Toussaint
Madelyn Cline as Whiskey
Jessica Henwick as Peg
Directed and Written by Rian Johnson