'Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery': Daniel Craig Returns for Another Entertaining Mystery Movie
One of my favorite moviegoing experiences of the past several years was going to see an advance screening of Knives Out back in 2019. It was a packed house, and the energy from the audience as the film's mystery unfolded was electric. Knives Out ended up being one of my favorite films of that year, and when it was announced that a follow-up featuring Daniel Craig's instantly iconic character Benoit Blanc was in the works, I couldn't have been more excited. I was a little less excited when I found out Netflix was distributing it, as the likelihood of me getting to see it in a theater seemed to be small. Thankfully, Netflix decided to release it in theaters for one week only, and I took the first chance I could to go see Rian Johnson's new mystery Glass Onion in theaters. Once again, it was a packed house and the energy was infectious. But most importantly, Johnson once again delivers a compelling mystery that also acts as a meta-commentary on puzzle box style movies, and makes some solid jabs at the vapidity of new money culture.
Several months after the events of Knives Out, Glass Onion introduces a new cast of characters who are gather on a private Greek island for a weekend getaway. They are a group of old friends who have risen to success in various areas of life, helped significantly by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Bron has invited his friends to participate in a murder mystery contest, but when legendary detective Benoit Blanc mysteriously receives an invitation, the weekend begins to take a few twists and turns. This all leads to a new mystery for Blanc to solve, which has some interesting layers for him to peel back.
While Glass Onion has the subtitle "A Knives Out Mystery", there isn't much that connects the two films beyond Benoit Blanc being in both of them, and that they are both mystery movies. But while Knives Out took inspiration from classic whodunits, Glass Onion takes a more modern approach. This lends itself well to the film's larger statements on those who come from new money, and allows Johnson to do something more than just the same ol', same ol'. While both films share a lot of the same DNA, especially in terms of the humor and specific narrative devices being used, Glass Onion breaks away from some of the stylistic elements of Knives Out, and employs more contemporary iconography and references. The film has the appearance that we are in for another whodunit, but Johnson wisely subverts these expectations, opting instead to provide a commentary on how hollow upper class life is, despite how glamorous it appears on the outside. Johnson is pretty blatant with the metaphors and statements he uses to convey this point, but it is still a fascinating choice nonetheless. It might frustrate those going in expecting a more standard sequel, but I enjoyed what Johnson does with this film very much.
Rian Johnson is such a talented filmmaker, and is one of the more consistently great writer/directors currently working today, and he continues his impressive track record with this film. His screenplay might not be as tight as his other work, but it is still quite good nonetheless. His work becomes more rewarding on repeat viewings, and I feel that Glass Onion will do the same. The mystery at the film's core might not be as strong as the one in Knives Out, but it is clear that Johnson is more concerned with making a larger statement. The way he depicts the characters as vain, self-centered, and more concerned with the artifice of wealthiness pairs has so many parallels with the mystery elements of the film. Furthermore, the lavish mansion that most of the film takes place in is gorgeously designed, and plays an instrumental role in the film's core concept, as well as its big climax. These ideas and themes that Johnson is presenting might be a bit obvious, but they still serve the overall film nicely.
One of the most impressive features of Knives Out is its all-star cast, made up of an ensemble of veteran actors and then-newcomers that worked together like a well-oiled machine. For Glass Onion, we once again have an all-star cast, but they don't feel quite as cohesive. Some would probably consider this a drawback, but I'd argue that its kind of the point. The characters in this film are old friends who came up together when they were poor and struggling, but now that they are rich and thriving, they don't have much time for each other. They still like each other, of course, but it is clear that they are more concerned with their professional aspirations and maintaining their prestige as opposed to deepening their relationships. The distance between them only adds to the artifice surrounding them, and feeds into the film's statements on the upper class quite well.
But while this group might not have as much on-screen chemistry as the Knives Out cast, the actors that have been assembled here all do a great job. Dave Bautista once again proves himself to be a capable actor, and is arguably the funniest character in the film. He plays Duke, a hyper-masculine Twitch streamer, and he is so dialed in here. He portrays the buffoonish aspects of the character so well, and he plays to his strengths quite well, both comedically and physically. I also enjoyed Leslie Odom Jr.'s performance as Lionel, an accomplished scientist who works for Miles Bron. He is a bit more serious compared to the other actors, but he provides a nice contrast for some of the film's bigger performances. Odom has an interesting presence here, and while he doesn't play as big of a role in the film, I still like some of what he's doing here. I was a bit disappointed that the film underuses Kathryn Hahn, as I feel she could have done so much more in the context of this film. Hahn is an immensely talented comedic actress, but she plays it straight for pretty much the entire movie. It's a wasted opportunity, and a rather thankless role for Hahn.
On the other hand, Kate Hudson gives her best performance in years as Birdie, a former model turned fashion mogul. It is a big, borderline over-the-top performance, but she fits so perfectly into the world of the film. She has a lot of the film's funniest line deliveries, and plays the dimwittedness of her character perfectly. I'd also argue that Edward Norton gives one of his better performances in recent memory as Miles Bron, an Elon Musk-esque tech billionaire. Norton avoids his tendency to overdo his performances, and feels much more natural here. It highlights his natural talent better than his more showy performances, and he gets the chance to show his comedic chops as well.
Arguably the biggest standout of the film is Janelle Monáe, who is given a rather meaty role as Andi, Miles's former business partner. She has been invited to the island, despite a huge falling out with Miles, with the rest of the group questioning her motives for being there. Monáe is given a chance to truly show their range as an actor, which I was happy to see given how well they have done in smaller roles in other films. She captures the mysteriousness of her character perfectly, and has such an alluring screen presence that draws the viewer in. As the film goes, Monáe is able to expand on the character in ways I won't spoil here, but suffice to say I was highly impressed. This is easily their best performance to date, and shows that they are a true star.
Of course, the center of the film is Daniel Craig, who reprises his role as Benoit Blanc. It feels as if Craig was born to play this character, as I cannot see anyone playing Blanc but him. He plays the character with such honesty and determination, and you can't help but want to see him solve the case. It is a full-bodied performance that allows him to showcase his talents perfectly, and he is given the chance to deepen the character here. He is especially great in his scenes with Monáe, as the two have excellent chemistry together. Craig just slips into the role of Blanc effortlessly, and I would say its in the conversation for the most defining character of his career.
Frequent Johnson collaborator Steve Yedlin once again returns as Director of Photography on this film, and he captures the luxuriousness of the Greek Islands and Miles Bron's mansion beautifully. He also has some pretty great compositions at certain moments, and the framing of certain shots is rather striking. As alluded to earlier, the production design is next level for this film, utilizing glass and intricate designs to bring the mansion to life. The use of lights and color are also great here, and some of the specific details of the mansion are fun additions to the film.
While I think I prefer Knives Out ever so slightly, Glass Onion is still a fantastic follow-up to it. It is a compelling, funny, mystery movie, and yet another solid film from Rian Johnson. Some may be turned off by how little it has to do with Knives Out, but I loved how Johnson took a different approach here, and crafted a different kind of mystery that pokes fun at the upper class. With some great performances, especially from Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe, Dave Bautista, and Kate Hudson, and some stunning cinematography and production design, this is a film that I heavily enjoyed, and I am already looking forward to seeing it again. I'm not sure what Rian Johnson will do with a third Knives Out film, but with Glass Onion, I have full faith that he will come up with something highly entertaining and well-crafted.