With its stellar cast, intricately plotted murder mystery, and social commentary, 2019’s Knives Out was an absolute joy to watch. You could tell that everyone involved was having a blast as they were making the film, and that just made the film all the more enjoyable to watch. Which translated into considerable critical and commercial success: numerous critics considered it one of the year’s best films and it earned over $300 million dollars at the box office.
With Glass Onion — which was picked up by Netflix after a bidding war — writer/director Rian Johnson returns with another adventure for Benoit Blanc, the affable Southern detective played with charm by 007 himself, Daniel Craig. This time around, he’s summoned to a private Greek island when a body turns up during a tech billionaire’s party. As for the partygoers, they’re another stellar cast, including Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista.
Glass Onion had its world premier at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month. Does it hold up to the original? Does Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig have another hit on their hands? Read on for an assortment of critics’ reviews.
But the marvel here, the glue that keeps it together, is Johnson’s witty script, written with such tick-tock precision and so meticulously thought-through (and through, and through) that it becomes thrilling just to watch it work, to witness the dexterity with which he’s winding this thing up and letting it spin. It’s not unusual for a protagonist to stand in for a director, and that’s certainly the case here — by the end, we’re invested in the story, but we’re also dying to see how both Benoit Blanc and Rian Johnson are going to get us out of this thing. In Glass Onion, the filmmaker shows absolute mastery of his genre and his craft. It’s pure pop pleasure.
For all its moment-to-moment virtuosity and sustained comic delirium, Glass Onion can feel a little less airtight and a little more seat-of-its-pants than its predecessor, and maybe a touch derivative in the way it repeats certain character dynamics. On the plus side, the characters here feel more vividly inhabited and more specifically drawn than their earlier counterparts. The politics are subtler and sharper; the scrumptious eat-the-rich buffet of Knives Out has given way to a pointed sendup of the contemporary billionaire class and the hacks and cronies who cling to it like barnacles.
With Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Johnson has brought back Blanc for an even bigger, funnier, twistier whodunnit. Not only does Johnson recapture what made the first flick so special, he actually outdoes himself. Yes, Glass Onion is even better than Knives Out. The key ingredient to that success is that Johnson doesn’t try to remake the first film. Yes, Benoit Blanc is once again knee-deep in a murder mystery and surrounded by a cast of suspects, but Johnson isn’t interested in giving us the same old same old. Instead, he goes bigger, building a complex mystery that towers over the first film’s crime.
Without spoiling too much of the plot, the film builds up to a howl of despair at the state of present-day America: a capitalist system that protects the self-interested one-percent and their accomplices, as well as a justice system designed to insulate them from severe consequences for their misdeeds. The explosive climax has a certain primally cathartic power, but it doesn’t quite dispel the air of self-satisfaction that envelops Johnson’s screenplay. As topical commentary, Glass Onion feels less born out of deeply felt personal fury than an interest in pandering to audience members of the same progressive political persuasion.
It remains to be seen how widely, if at all, the film will be released theatrically — it is currently dated to be launched on the platform on December 23. But with its gloriously tacky billionaire-lair set — the glass onion itself is a hideous piece of architecture which looks like the rejected blueprints for a Macao casino — and Kate Hudson having the scene-stealing, cocktail-swilling time of her life, this really is a film which is designed to be watched with a packed and rambunctious audience.
The shift in tone and mystery building feels like Johnson once again attempting to shake up the whodunnit format, to varying success. Even when some characters behave as expected, there are still plenty of unexpected tricks up Johnson’s sleeves. The more expansive story makes this sequel feel less tightly wound or exhilarating than its predecessor. Still, it goes harder on bringing the entertainment and maintaining the magic of Benoit Blanc’s sleuthing expertise.
Johnson still does whodunits better than Kenneth Branagh’s horrid Agatha Christie adaptations he keeps torturing audiences with. Yet despite the giggles and the beefier budget — explosions, an exotic locale, massive sets — Glass Onion comes off slight.
This time around, Johnson adds even more satirical comedy with a focus on power and social dynamics. It’s a reflection on the world we’re living in right now. For a script written during the pandemic, Johnson writes a film that takes advantage of the outside as much as possible. There’s something meta about this being a Netflix original movie and characters being disruptors. But anyway, he takes the audience on a roller coaster and gives viewers new characters that are just as compelling and engaging as the original film.
There will be some who argue that the first film is breezier and that whodunits shouldn’t clock in at 140 minutes. They’re not really wrong, and yet there’s just SO much to savor in this movie — so many sharp turns, beautiful settings, clever lines, and playful performances. In many ways, it’s a more “fun” movie than the first — one can feel the joy everyone on set had as they stepped into Johnson’s puzzle of a screenplay and played their piece.
The cast is more eclectic, the mystery is more complex, and rich assholes are richer and more asshole-y. In short, the sequel is a delight. It won’t necessarily win over new viewers, but it’s just the thing for fans of the original — and it’s exactly what Netflix needs for its blockbuster cinematic aspirations.
After a short theatrical run in November, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will begin streaming on Netflix on December 23, 2022. Watch the trailer below.