Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery review: A hugely entertaining sequel
Ivan Radford | On 23, Dec 2022
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Dave Bautista, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr
“When does the murder mystery start?” That’s Duke (Dave Bautista) asking the key question early on in Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s raucous follow-up to Knives Out. The first film had fun deconstructing and reassembling the familiar elements of an Agatha Christie whodunnit with a raised eyebrow – a wealthy family, a big house, dark secrets and chunky knitwear. This sequel is a flashier affair, taking us away from Agatha Christie conventions and into a world of new money that’s garishly modern – and pointedly shallow.
Strolling into this glass hall of vanity is the unimpressed Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who is so eager for a case to challenge him that he accepts an unexpected invitation to join a bunch of wealthy mates on a private Greek island for a weekend, even though he will be challenged mostly by their superficiality.
Duke, we swiftly learn, is a Twitch streamer who rants about men’s rights online and has brought along his assistant and equally ambitious girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). Claire (Kathryn Hahn) is a governor focused on campaigning for the Senate. Birdie (Kate Hudson) is a model who found success with a designer range of sweatpants, after everyone started working at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. And Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr) is a science whizz who works for Miles (Edward Norton), the wealthiest of them all and the one who has gathered these “disruptors” together to celebrate his birthday.
Benoit Blanc is the surprise guest who completes the ensemble, but the twist is that another surprise guest also steps off the boat: Andi (Janelle Monáe), the co-founder of Miles’ tech company who was publicly cut out of the firm’s story, legacy and profit. Chuck in the fact that Duke, Claire, Birdie and Lionel all bring their own grudges, tensions and opportunities for blackmail to this inner circle of supposed friends and you have the perfect storm for a perilous getaway. It’s par for the course, then, that Miles has decided to stage a murder mystery party where he’s the victim.
Who does actually end up on the slab, let alone who’s responsible, is all part of the enjoyment, with Johnson’s absurdly layered script going further than the original Knives Out to keep us guessing on multiple levels throughout. Then, just as you think you’ve got a wild theory in your head, Johnson confidently slots in a flashback or conversation that reframes events, then continues to shift that frame for surprise, intrigue and, most of all, just for fun.
That bold, explicitly knowing tone doubles down on Knives Out’s post-modern playfulness in a way that suits the extravagant egos on screen – the fact that the whole thing has a bigger budget, courtesy of Netflix, which is turning the left field one-off into a trilogy, only plays into the seedy capitalist excess being skewered. As Glass Onion peels back the glamorous sheen, influencers, billionaires and politicians are all rendered transparent in their desperation to be seen as important and memorable.
The cast are certainly game. Dave Bautista is brilliantly insecure beneath his macho exterior, while Kate Hudson relishes a character to sink her teeth into, as her celebrity sinks deeper into an ethical scandal. The always-excellent Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr steal every scene going, while Edward Norton reminds us just how good an actor he is as the preening, Elon Musk-esque figure. In the middle of them all, Daniel Craig steps back into Blanc’s shoes with the treacly smoothness of his thick accent, bringing an added twinkle to his detective’s intellect as we see a little more of his private life. Without a doubt, though, it’s Janelle Monáe’s show and she mines her multi-faceted outsider for hefty emotion and stirring anger with a blazing charisma, emerging as the only three-dimensional player in a house of two-dimensional cards.
The result retains Knives Out’s satisfying sting at the expense of villains who are altogether more insidious than the films’ cartoonish capering tone might have you believe. If the initial notion of a sequel perhaps sparked fears of diminishing returns, this hugely entertaining romp only sees Johnson sharpening his blade.