This year brought us two murder mystery sequels. Kenneth Branagh's Death on the Nile, a sequel to Murder on the Orient Express, tried too hard to replicate its predecessor, just in a different setting. It bombed. Rian Johnson's Glass Onion, a follow-up to Knives Out, succeeds because the director holds on to a few basics – colorful characters, a sarcastic sense of humor – but finds a fresh tone. The film is certainly more over-the-top than the original, yet every bit as entertaining.
Daniel Craig is back as mastermind detective Benoit Blanc. He's one of several people who have received a strange puzzle box in the mail. Solving it provides an invitation to a private Greek island owned by eccentric billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). The other invitees are disgraced social media star Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), tech expert Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom, Jr.), senatorial candidate Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), and Twitch streamer/men's rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista). Duke brings along his hottie girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). And then there's Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), Miles's former business partner. She hates his guts. As one character puts it, it's not suspicious that she was invited, it's suspicious that she actually showed up.
Miles has brought together his old friends, whom he proudly dubs “disrupters,” for a game in which he'll be faux-murdered and they will have the weekend to figure out who did it. That plan is foiled when someone else is murdered for real. Blanc, who doesn't understand why he was invited since he has no prior connection to Bron, springs into action to identify the culprit. Johnson is playful with the structure, setting up the premise in a standard manner, then flashing back to reveal a piece of information that changes everything once the plot returns to the present.
What Glass Onion has in common with Knives Out is an assortment of amusing characters. Perfectly played by the ensemble cast, they possess eccentricities that offer lots of opportunities for humor. Birdie, for example, has a tendency to speak before she thinks, a trait that caused her fall from grace on social media. (She has no clue how offensive many of her comments are.) Kate Hudson is hilarious in the role, and Dave Bautista is similarly funny as Duke. The actor mocks all that men's rights nonsense by having the character embrace it to an absurd degree. On his end, Daniel Craig once again turns Benoit Blanc into an appealing oddball detective, with his serious manner and Foghorn Leghorn manner of speaking.
The primary difference between the two films is that Glass Onion goes to kookier places. Having established Blanc's persona, Johnson is free to put him into a story that marches to the beat of its own drummer. The mystery unfolds with all kinds of wild twists and turns -- few of them plausible, all of them fun. Everything builds to a denouement that's satisfying in how it resolves the mystery, and thrilling in how it mocks the cliched Hercule Poirot-esque Here's how I cracked the case! explanations by re-imagining them as a springboard for absurd comic mayhem. Having Miles be a billionaire additionally allows the film to mock the weirdo narcissism of people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. The title refers to a massive circular glass office the guy has built, a symbol of how the super-rich spend money on useless, self-aggrandizing crap simply to show off what they can afford.
Knives Out was simultaneously a send-up of all-star murder mysteries and a first-rate example of them. Glass Onion does that too, while also using the genre to spoof egocentricity. Miles, Birdie, Lionel, Claire, and Duke are not, as Miles professes, disrupters, they are selfish fools. Watching Benoit Blanc puncture their bubbles is inordinately pleasing. As for Andi, I'll just say that Janelle Monáe pulls off what's required of her magnificently, turning in one of 2022's best supporting performances.
I laughed frequently at Glass Onion, thanks to the cast's efforts, the witty screenplay, and all the quirky little jokes tucked into the corners of the frame. Rian Johnson has succeeded in making a sequel that maintains the best qualities of the original, then builds on them in exciting, unexpected ways.
out of four
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is rated PG-13 for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.