Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Benoit Blanc’s new adventure proves blander than the first
Knives Out (2019) burst through the scene to revive the murder mystery sub-genre that Kenneth Branagh had been attempting to with his remakes of Agatha Christie novels. While Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and later Death on the Nile (2022) proved to be by-the-numbers and bland, Knives Out infused a fresh originality with an entirely new story. It was no surprise, after the financial success of the first film, that a bidding war would ensue for the rights to its sequels, which Netflix won for an astronomical two-picture deal worth $450 million (this does not include film costs). After some delays due to COVID-19, the first sequel has finally arrived on the streamer.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) follows detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) once again, the only returning character from the previous film. This time he’s embroiled in a murder mystery on a billionaire’s private Greek island. This tech billionaire, Miles (Edward Norton) has invited an array of friends from his past to attend, from the canceled celebrity Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) to a US governor running for Senate, Claire (Kathryn Hahn), and even his maligned ex, Andi (Janelle Monae). Benoit must sift through these colorful characters to find out who’s guilty.
Rian Johnson returns as the writer-director of Glass Onion as well, and he brings back his good-humor and giddiness for the mystery-genre. Once again, we have playful quick zooms and rushed dolly shots that give the film the sense of a cartoon. Likewise, Johnson is sure to never let things get too serious, despite the film revolving around death. This lighthearted mood is kept in balance thanks to a script that doesn’t overdo its comedic bits, and to a talented cast that knows how to milk each moment. As with the first Knives Out, Glass Onion has timely social commentary to drop, on society’s elites and their desperation to maintain a rotten system that keeps them in power.
As with any sequel to an original surprise, Glass Onion struggles to keep up with its unfair expectations. Johnson delivers in the overall wholeness and enjoyability of the mystery, but in trying to bring about a fresh structure and approach, he delves into shakier territory. Johnson causes a temporal shift halfway through Glass Onion, which grounds the momentum to a halt, and forces one too many twists and turns. By the end you’re less surprised than impatient when yet another turn of events is revealed. This complex sheen, like the film’s title, fails to disguise the rather bland and bare-bones plot, which sometimes teeters close to the melodramatic. Johnson’s dialogue is blockier in this sequel as well, with most scenes being simple exposition dumps, and character work being left completely by the wayside.
Glass Onion has another impressive all-star cast, with the previous actors joined by the likes of Dave Bautista, Jessica Henwick, Leslie Odom Jr., and Madelyn Cline. All the performers are up to par, delivering what is required of them by the script, but providing little else. Craig has clearly found a role that brings him much more joy than his pained final movies as James Bond, and you can see the British thespian having the time of his life playing Blanc. His enjoyment and passion for the film is what adds a jolt to the otherwise generic character arcs.
Glass Onion is an enjoyable sequel in this blossoming Knives Out saga, although the film itself proves to be hollower than its shiny veneer would lead you to believe. The enjoyment to watching a new murder mystery is retained, and you don’t regret your time spent on a Greek island once the credits roll. Nevertheless, the themes and characters are not hewed sharply enough and are condemned to fade quickly compared to those in the first film.