2022 has had no shortage of films focusing on the ridiculous and ill-advised things rich people do, but here we are with Glass Onion, which is the best of them all. A sequel to 2019’s smash hit original whodunnit, Knives Out, director Rian Johnson returns with another case for Daniel Craig’s Detective Benoit Blanc, and the film recalibrates to make it feel just as fresh. Whatever the mystery may involve this time, there’s so much joy to be found in this sun-soaked work of cinematic entertainment. And thanks to the cast and sharp writing, the pleasure is not only present in the moment but buried within the multiple layers this film operates on.
Explicitly set in 2020, during the pandemic lockdown, tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) has invited all of his friends for a murder mystery party getaway on a private Greek island. His guests include Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), fashion designer/ex-model Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and Twitch streamer/men’s rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and his aspiring influencer girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). Two more participants curiously round out the guest list: Miles’ ex-business partner Cassandra Brand (Janelle Monáe) and Detective Blanc, who has never met Miles nor understands why he was invited.
Compared to Knives Out, which this film has no story-related connection to, the mystery at hand is less straightforward at first. A case will need to be solved, but Johnson allows the film to spend time establishing its many characters and the history shared between them. This works to Glass Onion’s advantage in multiple ways.
For one, Johnson knows the viewer will be looking for clues and trying to take mental notes even before anything gets underway. Whether there’s meaning behind how this island home is set up, the deployment of certain bits of dialogue, or characters just making an obscure reference, the movie is designed to engage the many considerations for what’s taking place. In turn, this allows the film to use its one central location to the best effect.
Dealing with Covid-related restrictions, as needed, it’s a minor element of the plot, but the level of containment for this ensemble has its purpose. We are sure to revisit plenty of rooms viewed under varying circumstances. This is a great way to take in the clever production design that will inform the story while poking at how the super-rich sees and treat themselves. It may be a mix of mystery and farce, but Johnson and his team, including cinematographer Steve Yedlin, do an excellent job of capturing the excess and framing it in ways that certainly draw the viewer in.
A fitting irony in all of this is how the first film’s success has informed the sequel. One doesn’t have to search hard to find the details of the massive offer Netflix put forward to purchase the rights for at least two more Knives Out movies. Keeping that in mind, while made for around the same budget, there appears to be a concerted effort to have the film feel like it’s showing off at times by way of random cameos and clever special effects. Naturally, having a film focused on major tech players and wealthy influencers means this film can get away with it to some degree. Still, Johnson knows what he’s doing, which only adds to what helps hold this all together.
The fact is, Glass Onion is wildly entertaining throughout its runtime. From the casting to the clever cutaways to the costume design (Blanc has so many neck scarves), something is happening in every frame of this film. Every component is designed to delight or intrigue the audience. It’s a movie built to deliver a good time to the viewer, even when considering what it means to engage with the extravagance of some vapid individuals.
Given the nature of these characters and the setting of this film, as another way to move in a different direction from the first film, this is a brighter, more colorful setting Blanc is caught up in. That means the interactions are literally less chilly compared to the Massachusetts-set Knives Out, but that doesn’t mean one can’t still question the worth of these characters. With that in mind, this is still quite a fun ensemble to see work within the established bounds.
Norton continues to excel when poking fun at his own perceived image, even when inhabiting the persona of a billionaire hippie (who happens to be obsessed with technological advances). Hudson may be doing her best work since Almost Famous, bringing this ditzy attitude to a self-described truthteller, allowing for plenty of comedy. Similarly, Bautista’s bulky bro of the worst kind provides plenty of natural humor to emerge, emphasized further by the numerous tattoos he can flaunt freely.
As what the others see as a surprise guest, Monáe gets a notable amount to do that adds unique dimensions to this plot. Like any mystery, we need someone to root for (or at least focus around), outside of a detective who will ideally solve the case. Having a character that has been alienated in some way makes plenty of sense, and as the story evolves, it becomes more evident just how effective Monáe is in her role.
And finally, Craig is simply excellent here. Already mining plenty of delightfulness out of the southern twang he brought the first time around in the role, Glass Onion allows Craig to go even deeper. We get more of a sense of his character based on costume choices, affectations, and other elements of his personality. There’s also more to understand in how his process works. It can’t be simple to create a detective character that can rival the likes of Holmes, Poirot, Marple, and even Columbo. Yet, here we are with Craig moving on from James Bond and into the shoes of a character I can’t wait to see more of. He’s confident and frequently hilarious, with some of the best line readings one could ask for.
One film was already enough to satisfy, but plenty of evidence presented shows that Rian Johnson knows how to assemble more than one kind of mystery. The added benefit of placing these films at specific times means engaging the audience on other interesting levels, but it’s all balanced out by these terrific ensemble casts and whip-smart writing. Unlocking the puzzle at the center of this mystery may be important, but exploring all the outer layers of this Glass Onion will keep people coming back, let alone find themselves eager for another Benoit Blanc adventure.