The devil is in the details in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, the follow-up to 2019’s whodunit, Knives Out. Rian Johnson is once again writing and directing, and Daniel Craig reprises his role as the gentleman sleuth, Benoit Blanc, but otherwise Glass Onion features a new cast of suspects and only an indirect reference to Knives Out. When the film opens, it’s 2020 and no one is coping well with lockdown. Benoit, who thrives on his cases, is practically living in his bathtub and losing online games with his friend group (celebrity cameos, ahoy!). What he needs is a case, but with a pandemic on, that doesn’t seem likely. I’ll admit, the early going was a little rough for me, but then a puzzle box arrives for Benoit, and whoosh, Glass Onion is off to the races. Also, the idea that Benoit has “pandemic brain” and might not be at his sharpest pays off later. Rian Johnson wastes nothing in his script.
The puzzle box is courtesy tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), and besides Benoit, he sent boxes to his inner circle of friends-cum-hangers-on, Connecticut politician Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn); Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom, Jr.), a scientist in Miles’s employ; former supermodel turned athleisure entrepreneur, Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson); and MRA YouTuber Duke Cody (Dave Bautista). Also along for the ride are Peg (Jessica Henwick), Birdie’s put-upon assistant, and Duke’s girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). And there is an unexpected guest: Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe), Miles’s recently ousted former business partner in the all-encompassing corporation they co-founded, Alpha.
If Knives Out was about the moral dry rot of old money and classism, Glass Onion is about the moral decay of new money and influencers. Miles and his friends are detestable, and while Harlan Thrombey’s old-money estate was an interesting treasure trove of curios that suggests not only taste but time to cultivate it, Miles Bron’s new money private island is tacky as sh-t and full of tasteless art and ostentatious wealth displays, up to and including the actual Mona Lisa in his living room, on short-term loan from the Louvre since they need money during the pandemic. There is no cozy knitwear here, and the only person displaying any taste, besides Benoit and his dapper wardrobe, is Andi. Miles literally has more money than he knows what to do with, and his friends—long since turned to leeches—are only too happy to take advantage of his largesse.
Glass Onion isn’t necessarily better than Knives Out, but it’s at least as good, and it plays with the foundation of that film in interesting ways. It’s difficult to explain without spoilers—which I am avoiding and will continue to avoid—but Glass Onion reverses parts of the structure of Knives Out. It’s still a whodunit, but a different kind of one, with a much less straightforward setup. And it has a major case of sequelitis, being bigger, louder, longer, and more than Knives Out, but it’s also outright funnier than Knives Out, and while Miles and his ilk are just awful, Benoit is a lot of fun to spend time with, especially when he’s doing his whole schtick. It is so fun and satisfying watching Benoit Blanc solve a mystery, which is the major test Glass Onion has to pass, to prove that Benoit Blanc isn’t a one-hit wonder.
Well, he’s not. Benoit Blanc is now confirmed as one of the great fictional detectives, with a unique method of solving crimes, and Daniel Craig is bound to be as indelible in this role as he is James Bond. And because Glass Onion doesn’t include anything but the vaguest reference to Knives Out, it will work for newcomers who missed the first round of Benoit Blanc mania, as well pleasing the Knives Out faithful.
Glass Onion, as the title suggests, is a multi-layered mystery narrative, and Rian Johnson’s best trick is that every one of them pays off in the end. This mystery might be a little easier to solve for general audiences—but remember, no wasted setups—but whatever nits you can pick are easily dismissed by the sheer enjoyment of the mystery and humor of the film. The Knives Out Mysteries, if that’s what we’re calling this franchise, have something to say about money and morality while still delighting with humor and twisty mysteries with supremely satisfying solves.
Glass Onion will premiere on Netflix on December 23, 2022. There are rumors there will be a wide theatrical release before then, but no dates have been confirmed.