Knives Out, writer/director Rian Johnson didn't redefine or revolutionize
the old, familiar genre of the murder mystery, but he did play with the tone,
methods, and structure of that genre for genuine surprises and to considerably
successful effect. The film was an impressive juggling act of a twisty thriller
and a pointed class comedy, which also happened to serve as an engaging little
mystery by the time our intrepid detective got around to piecing everything
together in a satisfactory way.
Because that film was as successful as it was, a sequel more or less became
inevitable. Besides, Johnson set himself up for at least one future installment
by way of introducing a most intriguing detective. The hope was that the
adventures of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the last of the traditional
"gentleman detectives," would continue. The main fear might be that Johnson
wouldn't be able to recapture the spirit and, especially, the ingenuity of
Blanc's first mystery. Glass Onion dispels the latter worry, re-enforces
Johnson's skill as a weaver of puzzles, and only makes one more excited about
the possibility of Blanc returning again and again to solve new mysteries every
couple of years.
It is a completely new whodunit this time around, with a new cast of noteworthy
actors playing deliciously eccentric characters in a new setting. Blanc returns,
obviously, as does Craig, who again makes a big impression with his genial
manner and a sense of legitimate intelligence as the character. He also displays
a considerable amount of generosity as an actor to know that, while he may be
the star, his character is more a passive sounding board for his co-stars than
one who takes the spotlight.
The detective's job, after all, is to observe, listen, and quietly deduce the
nature of a crime, a criminal's motives, and the means by which that crime has
been perpetrated. The suspects are, in theory, the real draw that keeps us
Here, Johnson has collected a great set of likely killers and potential victims.
Indeed, the filmmaker seems so attached to each of them and fascinated by their
blatant foibles that he seems a little hesitant to knock off even one of them to
start the plot in motion.
That's fine, because it allows us to become re-acquainted with Blanc, who finds
himself in a bit of a rut, and to discover the depths of feuds and follies among
the party of possible murderers/victims. While the first film had fun toying
with the selfish and aloof nature of a wealthy family, this one feels a bit more
obviously and pointedly satirical in its dissection of how wealth and fame can
shape people for the worse. This follow-up works just as well as a crafty
mystery and, eventually, an unexpected thriller as its predecessor—which is to
say that it functions in those modes quite, quite well. As a comedy, though,
Johnson's sequel is funnier about and more ruthless against its deserving
As for Blanc, he's in a downcast mood. With no mysteries to solve during the
recent pandemic, he spends his time playing video games (The identities of his
competition offer the first few of the film's unexpected cameos) and seemingly
living out of his bathtub. Meanwhile, some elaborate puzzle boxes are arriving
at the homes of a group of well-to-do, long-time friends.
They have been sent by Miles Bron (Edward Norton), the head of a tech empire,
who has invited his closest pals to get away from the pandemic, spend a weekend
at his palatial estate on a private island in the Aegean Sea, and participate in
a friendly game of a murder mystery. Blanc receives an invite, too, but upon
arriving with the rest of the party, Bron privately admits that Blanc's puzzle
box didn't come from him. The detective knows from experience, of course, that
an anonymous invitation is nothing to dismiss as an innocent gesture.
As for the members of this party, there's Miles, a self-indulgent and
egotistical billionaire given some down-to-earth charm, as well as plenty of
reason to doubt that positive trait, by Norton. His pals include Claire (Kathryn
Hahn), a state governor with a populist bent and a no-nonsense way of talking
that are surely hiding—or outwardly displaying—something sinister, and Lionel
(Leslie Odom Jr.), one of the top scientists at Miles' company who knows
something about his boss' next big plan.
Additionally, Kate Hudson plays Birdie, a fashion model and designer who
regularly gets in trouble on social media for statements that she believes are
just "too honest," and Dave Bautista portrays Duke, who makes videos about
"men's rights" out of his mother's basement. Rounding out the main guests is
Janelle Monáe as Andi, Miles' former business partner. She shocks everyone with
her arrival, considering it follows a lengthy lawsuit against the tech mogul
didn't go her way.
To just explain which character or which number among the characters dies, how
they die, and when they die would be to divulge too much. That's especially
true, because Johnson takes his time to establish these characters and their
relationships. Beyond that, part of the game the filmmaker is playing includes a
wickedly clever reversal of one "who" and "when"—a statement that hopefully
makes no sense to those who have yet to see the film and quite a lot more sense
to those who have.
Of the mystery or mysteries, what can be said is that they're elaborate in their
parsing of both clues and pieces of misdirection. When the story does make that
most significant turnaround, the new perspective provided by it adds a level of
suspense, a rather unanticipated degree of sympathy for one character, and a
great deal of admiration for how well one of these actors plays a role that
appears to be one way, only for the role to be a role of sorts itself. Again,
that should make no sense to the uninitiated, but if you have watched the film,
the strength of that performance should be self-evident without the hints or
To put it more plainly, Glass Onion is as much a creative success as its
predecessor. It's fun and funny and, as exemplified by the way the big
revelation is both a satisfactory solution and a well-deserved piece of
character assassination, full of righteous outrage.