Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is, for better or worse, largely indebted to its predecessor, director Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. While that should be obvious (at least by the title), Johnson takes the sequel to new heights, creating a grande and elaborate film focusing on Benoit Blanc’s involvement in and resolution of another whodunnit mystery. While the actual mystery may be frustrating for some, specifically in its construction and unfolding, there is a vivacity and charm amidst the film’s bloat and indulgence. Johnson’s mix of self-aware playfulness and sincere reverence for Agatha Christie and other exemplars of the genre is again a winning mix.
Following the events of Knives Out, Benoit Blanc is longing for fulfillment and excitement, the world-renowned detective now plagued by boredom and the ease of solving cases. All of that changes though when he receives an unexpected invitation (a large puzzle box) to an island party belonging to tech billionaire Miles Bron. He isn’t the first though, as an ensemble of close friends to Bron, all of which successful and beholden to Bron, have received their invitations. The occasion is a surprise, especially with the inclusion of Cassandra, a former member of the group now an outsider after a corporate takeover by Bron. Anticipation is in the air as everyone arrives on the island but tensions arise as certain mysteries are made visible. The ensemble of friends is keeping secrets from each other and is confused about why Cassandra came to the party. The biggest mystery, though, is that Blanc was not invited by Bron and was by another guest, who may or may not have reason to kill Bron. Despite the confusion, the party begins with the first of several games Bron has planned: a murder mystery.
The narrative wildly unfurls from there. While Johnson goes to great lengths to make a mystery that feels distinct from Knives Out, both films share a similar structural affinity for flashbacks used both for plotting and comedy. Whereas the first film had a solid balance between looking to the past and creating momentum in the present, Glass Onion is much more reliant on flashbacks and reexamining events from other perspectives. This is a double-edged sword for Johnson, at times resulting in engaging and humorous effects and at other times instilling a tediousness that bogs the film down.
That is not to say that Glass Onion is not a very entertaining film, and the performances and writing are adept at drawing audiences in. Daniel Craig returns as Benoit Blanc, the delightful Southern-accented detective who is equally curious about each murder mystery as well as the people trapped within them. Edward Norton and Janelle Monáe both shine as Miles and Cassandra, respectively. The former is a self-assured but charismatic target for the killer and the latter is the film’s embodiment of humanity and moral decency, similar to Ana de Armas’s Marta in Knives Out. It would require spoiling the film to detail why these performances excel but know that each actor, as well as Johnson, is keenly aware of the expectations placed on each character and know how to subvert or meet them.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast though. The ensemble of friends is composed of distinguished actors and actresses, among them Kathryn Hahn as Claire, Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel, and Kate Hudson as Birdie. These performances are similarly lively and entertaining but rarely factor into the narrative, often feeling like peripheral additions to the narrative and support for other characters rather than secondary characters. Conversely, Jessica Henwick as Peg and Ethan Hawke as Miles’s assistant are wasted castings, with both actors relegated to visual gags or very minor dialogue exchanges. The exceptions are Dave Bautista as Duke and Madelyn Cline as Whiskey who, while not having the most screen time, are used effectively. There is also a plethora of celebrity cameos that accentuate the wealth and notoriety of the film’s lead characters.
The set design by Milan Dmjonovic and Elli Griff also stands out in their portrayal of a world marked by luxury and decadence. Especially for the Glass Onion, Miles’s private island where the film largely takes place, it is nearly impossible to forget the class of the characters we are watching. There is a big dining area, for example, that proudly parades all of Miles’s trophies and art that he has collected as a billionaire, with the Mona Lisa (he secretly bought it from the Louvre) displaying the totality of his wealth and need for security as the focus of the room, covered by an elaborate security system using glass panes. The costume design by Jenny Eagan also stands out, giving each character a sense of class, personality, and liveliness that supports the film’s lighthearted tone.
Despite the film’s flaws, Johnson’s direction in creating a now established franchise should be commended as a breath of fresh air. The cast and crew operate with a dedication and finesse that accentuate the better aspects of Johnson’s script and vision. The totality of the strengths of Glass Onion results with a satisfying “eat the rich” social satire while also being a somewhat enticing murder mystery.
While not as tight and successful as its 2019 predecessor, Glass Onion continues the series’ charming wit and playfulness in another very entertaining outing by Johnson.