The murder mystery genre is one that never really goes out of style, but only if it keeps up with the times. One of many issues with Kenneth Branagh recently reviving Agatha Christie’s works is that he hasn’t updated the stories at all, leaving them feeling very old-fashioned. Writer/director Rian Johnson brought the genre into the 21st-century with 2019’s Knives Out, something he continues with aplomb in the pseudo-sequel, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is, like everyone else in mid-2020, struggling with the isolation of the pandemic. He gets a lifeline when he receives an invitation from billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) to join him and five of Bron’s closest friends – Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), and Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) – at his private island in Greece for a murder mystery-themed birthday party.
What happens on the island is best left experienced by the viewer, but suffice it to say that it involves over-the-top opulence, intrigue, jealousy, double-crosses, murder, and, naturally, Blanc lending his unique perspective to everything that takes place.
If the first Knives Out was a whodunit with lots of entertaining elements, Glass Onion could be considered a comedy that just so happens to have mystery at its center. Johnson has loaded the film with characters and situations that are ridiculous, but not so exaggerated as to be off-putting. Absurdity rules the day, but in a way that complements the story instead of being jokes-for-jokes’-sake.
The group of friends, representing a wide variety of professions, at first seems to be an odd combination, but as their history is gradually revealed, the tighter they become. The ingrained dynamics that were at play with the family in Knives Out are somewhat missing here, but Johnson and the actors imbue the characters with just enough detail so that the hold they have on each other feels real instead of contrived.
One of the unexpected pleasures the film offers is the number of off-the-wall celebrity cameos it contains. Setting the story early in the pandemic is not a crucial part of the film, but doing so allows Johnson to include a Zoom call with perhaps the least-expected celebrity quartet imaginable. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s been in every movie Johnson has made, makes perhaps his funniest, if most invisible, appearance.
Craig, who’s been begging to get away from James Bond for years, is once again a delight. As he’s shown as Blanc and in 2017’s Logan Lucky, if you pair him with a Southern accent and the freedom comedy provides, the result is magic. The rest of the cast does well, with Norton and Monáe especially standing out.
Glass Onion is so good that you can easily see Johnson returning every few years with a fresh cast; in fact, a third film is already planned for 2024. Other than Blanc, Johnson is not relying on the same tricks this time around, indicating his creativity knows no bounds.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will be in select theaters for one week starting November 23. It will debut on Netflix on December 23.