*** out of ****
(for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content)
Released: November 23, 2022 in theaters for one-week run; December 23, 2022 on Netflix
Runtime: 139 minutes
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cine, Noah Segan, Jackie Hoffman
Rian Johnson has whodunit again.
Three years after delivering one of the biggest box office surprises of recent memory (i.e. a non-superhero, non-IP original that seduced and entertained mass multiplex audiences over the 2019 holiday season), the talented-if-Last Jedi-polarizing director returns with a sequel to Knives Out, his Agatha Christie-inspired hit. It’s the first of two follow-ups in the murder mystery franchise that Netflix purchased the rights for with a staggering $450 million check.
That quarter-billion investment for this installment is all up there on the screen in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a glossy, Greek-set, star-studded luxury excursion that sees Daniel Craig’s super sleuth Benoit Blanc return to solve a murder — with suspects played by a murderer’s row of gorgeous movie stars (along with a few fun cameos). This big-screen worthy entertainment will receive a one-week run in theaters starting the day before Thanksgiving before it streams worldwide on Netflix a month later starting on December 23rd.
Though not the equal of its predecessor (reasons forthcoming), Glass Onion is another polished piece of clever Hollywood escapism that rewards its audience with canny twists and calibrated turns, all set inside a lush international getaway – with the titular mansion’s stunning design as an opulent centerpiece.
The ensemble is introduced through an extended prologue, one that revolves around an ingenious mystery box (a literal one, not the figurative kind coined by J.J. Abrams). It sets the tone well, and puzzle geeks will squee with delight while wondering if that box will be available to purchase as official Knives Out merch.
Hippie tech billionaire Miles Braun (Edward Norton) has invited his closest circle of friends to his private Mediterranean island in the middle of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak that has put the world on pause. The laid back but vivaciously charming Braun intends to host a murder mystery weekend where his friends will attempt to solve his “murder.” It’s all in good fun, of course, until real foul play actually strikes.
Secluded by geography and pandemic circumstances, emergency aid isn’t imminently available, and so Benoit Blanc – an add-on guest interloper to this close-knit crew – springs into action to deduce who of the seven survivors has turned Braun’s game into a cold-blooded crime, and why.
Even within a standard three-act formula, Rian Johnson ingeniously structures Glass Onion as a way to keep us guessing, particularly Act II which deconstructs and re-contextualizes the events of Act I – peeling away the onion’s layers, as it were, while revealing surprises.
Though smartly done, however, Glass Onion’s mystery isn’t as deft as the original’s. In part, that’s due to a broader comic style (especially in Act I) that tips some early clues a bit too visibly (one in particular). Also, Johnson has publicly expressed just how much he loves to subvert expectations, to the point that doing so is one of his guiding tenets. Consequently, I had it figured out by some point in the middle of Act II, and even then I could sense that minds keener than mine (not a high bar, admittedly) will clue in even sooner.
Thankfully, the difficulty or ease of solving the case is neither here nor there when it comes to enjoying the fun ride that Johnson has engineered. From an expertly assembled cast (Norton – whose compelling, charismatic spontaneity is often taken for granted – is a standout, as is Janelle Monáe as the narrative’s ethical spine) to an auteurist visual command, Johnson throws a murder mystery party with a lively elegance.
Johnson’s cinematic eye is the real killer; framing, composing, and moving the camera with dynamic precision. Glass Onion doesn’t simply boast strong production values; it’s crafted by a seriously gifted filmmaker.
The first Knives Out had a drier wit weighted by tragic melancholy, all made resonant by a thematic relevance embodied in Ana de Armas’ not-so-naïve ingénue. Glass Onion lacks that depth and poignancy. It boarders on camp at times, and I never found myself actually caring for these people the way I did in the original.
Glass Onion doesn’t quite boast the level of truly inspired dialogue that the original had, either, lacking the kind of ingeniously tangled logic heard in Blanc’s “A doughnut hole inside a doughnut’s hole” metaphor, but that (admittedly) is a very high bar to match.
Nevertheless, with Craig’s southern fried Poirot as the anchor and Johnson’s visual virtuosity, Glass Onion is a delectable treat that satisfies. More importantly, it leaves you excited by the prospect that this Benoit Blanc case won’t be the last time we see the knives come out.