A bigger, bolder, funnier sequel.
This is an advanced review out of the Toronto International Film Festival, where Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery made its world premiere. It will show in limited theaters in November 2022 before streaming on Netflix on Dec. 23, 2022.
Rian Johnson is back with the series he was born to lead, and round two of the Benoit Blanc cinematic universe is bigger, twistier, more lavish, and as good – if not better – than the first go around. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery sees Johnson continuing to refine his own take on the whodunit, mixing classic tropes and aesthetics with modern commentary and self-aware, referential humor. Daniel Craig delivers what may very well be the best performance of his career thus far, digging deeper to make Benoit Blanc a compelling, complex character belonging to the great pantheon of detectives. Likewise, Glass Onion feels worthy of being compared to the great works of the genre, as it exchanges the breeziness of the original with a funnier but angrier and more complex sequel.
Agatha Christie’s best whodunits tended to comment on contemporary social issues, and feature archetypes of the type of people that were prominent at the time. Johnson aims to give the same treatment to Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which targets economic disparity and class warfare while making targets of the kind of over-the-top, comically absurd wealthy people with stupid amounts of power we hear about every day.
If the first film had a “social justice warrior,” a right-wing troll, and a trust fund jerk, Glass Onion finds its archetypes in the Senate candidate (Kathryn Hahn), the stupidly clueless model-turned-fashion designer who cannot stop herself from tweeting racial slurs (Kate Hudson), a men’s rights activist and Twitch streamer (Dave Bautista), a scientist working at a giant tech company (Leslie Odom Jr.), and the eccentric billionaire (Edward Norton). We also have Janelle Monáe as the former business partner of the billionaire – a quiet, proud woman who had a grave injustice done against her.
Glass Onion follows this group of rich idiots in a plot inspired by the fantastic cult favorite The Last of Sheila, as they get invited to a private island for a sick murder mystery party that ends up falling into chaos when a real murder occurs. Thankfully, there is another guest at the party, Craig’s gentleman sleuth Benoit Blanc, who is the only one capable of solving the case.
While the first Knives Out had some poignant commentary on immigration and class warfare, Glass Onion feels like Johnson unchained and free to truly throw hard thematic jabs. It’s preoccupied with the hold people allow money to have on their lives, how often we look the other way because it’s convenient to us, and how it can drive us to betray others and ourselves, while also showing that exorbitant wealth doesn’t make you special, or even smart. At times, its themes and the script’s approach to tackling them might seem a bit too populist and ripped off from Twitter, but it works, especially when Johnson turns its more poignant moments into hilarious jokes. This time around, the comedy is a bit broader, and the jokes appear more often and with more of an impact.
To drive home the point about wealth and excess, Glass Onion uses that sweet Netflix money to full effect, making the sets look grossly and disgustingly luxurious. We’re talking a Banksy-designed ice bridge that rises from the water, robot butlers, a literal giant glass onion, and a whole plot involving the Mona Lisa.
Like the first film, Johnson assembled a phenomenal cast for Glass Onion. Monáe steals the show as Andi, while Hudson is a highlight of every scene she’s in with her excellent comedic timing and line delivery. Then there’s Blanc himself, with Craig digging deeper into the character, his poor skills at playing Among Us, and his obsession and drive. He is definitely more of a protagonist this time around, and there is a feeling of resignation in his voice as he ponders what a detective is actually capable of doing to achieve justice when the entire system is constantly kicking you down.
Shot and also set during lockdown, Glass Onion finds clever ways to introduce the COVID pandemic to the story, showing which of the characters sheltered in place and which had raves at their homes, and even featuring some very welcome Among Us footage.
It is clear this is but the beginning of a long franchise, and Glass Onion proves Knives Out was no fluke. Johnson continues to show his prowess as both a writer and as a director, and as long as he keeps making Benoit Blanc mysteries, well, there is some fun to look forward to on the big (or streaming) screen.