One of the biggest surprises of 2019 was Rian Johnson’s uproariously funny whodunit Knives Out. Giving us Daniel Craig at his most fun as South sleuth Benoit Blanc, the murder-mystery toyed with the conventions of Agatha Christie mysteries while employing a top notch a-list cast. It’s box-office, awards and acclaim meant that another mystery was inevitable. Taking a note from Christie, Johnson offers us this stand-alone sequel. Back in Craig as the always well dressed, and mostly eloquent Blanc but with a new case to solve.
At the height of the pandemic tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites his friends to his island mansion for a murder mystery weekend. Guests include: Miles’ ex-business partner (Janelle Monae), a governor running for senate (Kathryn Hahn), a scientist working on clean energy (Leslie Odom jr), a supermodel turned designer (Kate Hudson), her put upon assistant (Jessica Henwick), a men’s rights activist (Dave Bautista) and his YouTuber girlfriend (Madelyn Cline). When things go awry it’s lucky that for some reason someone has invited Benoit Blanc.
While Knives Out was a playful deconstruction of class and the venomous nature of families’ with money set in an autumnal New England, Glass Onion is more a take of money through the lens of celebrity and the backstabbing nature of friends when one holds all the money. Edward Norton is therefore perfectly pitched to be a truly vile murder victim especially when he boasts about how much money he spent on setting up a murder mystery weekend. But Rian Johnson is infamous for his glee at deconstructing genre. From his film noir high-school movie Brick, to his interesting but divisive take on Star Wars with *whisper everyone* The Last Jedi.
We get a murder, but not who we expect, not how we expect and not when we expect. Johnson has great fun putting his characters into place. The intricate box that introduces the invitation, the various ways people are indebted to Norton’s Bron. Naturally Daniel Craig is having a blast returning to his Southern sleuth, and this time in an assortment of cravats and linen suits or shorty short shorts. It’s wonderful to see the pure joy on Craig’s face when he gets the chew some of Johnson’s overly wordy, mostly verbose dialogue and spit it out like he’s just enjoyed a delicious piece of bubblegum.
Around him are game players, from Hahn’s so brittle she could snap political, to Odom Jr’s suspiciously calm scientist. Bautista gets the lion’s share of the most pointed moments as a men’s rights activist, introduced talking about his love of boobies while still living with his mother. But it’s Janelle Monae who gets the best role filling the void left by Ana de Armas’ wonderfully endearing Marta as ousted former co-founder Andi Brand.
This is as pop-culture filled as the previous film, and even more cameo heavy. To reveal any would be to spoil the fun call-backs and surprise appearances but unlike the first film’s random Frank Oz appearance, here we have veritable legends show up for a line or two.
While this could have been a chance to cash in on the runaway success of the first film Johnson has instead opted to make a bigger, more layered mystery and clearly enjoys the deceptions he’s packed in for us while Craig does his best not to cackle after every line.
If there’s an issue with the film, it might be that the emotional core of the first film – that building relationship between Blanc and Marta and his solemn assurance that she was a truly caring human being – is missing from this, despite the joyous nature of what follows. It also doesn’t help that Henwick’s role as a put upon assistant feels like it could have been beefed up somewhat and given more to do.
Even with that quibble, Glass Onion is as silly and fun as the title suggests, inviting another go-around with one of cinema’s best new characters, and promising that if Netflix is planning at least one more that Johnson and Craig are not slacking when it comes to making sure we have a belly-achingly good time.