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Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Review: A Clever Crowd-Pleaser

EDITORS' RATING: 9/10
Pros
  • Clever and engaging script
  • Daniel Craig returns to form as Benoit Blanc
  • Janelle Monae steals the show
Cons
  • Unnecessary pandemic setting
  • A few too many cheap name-dropping jokes

When a movie takes off as quickly and organically as "Knives Out" did, a sequel is all but assured. But there are some very real minefields to navigate in putting together that follow-up film. Will director Rian Johnson be able to recreate the magic that made "Knives Out" so refreshing, or will "Glass Onion" be just a tired retread of its greatest hits? Will a character like Benoit Blanc be reduced to just a caricature, filled with catchphrases that ring more hollow every time we hear them? Will a sequel with only one returning cast member garner the same level of goodwill? The quality of "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" was never guaranteed, but rest assured: The Rian Johnson-helmed sequel, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, is near-perfect, telling a very different story but capturing the same playful contempt for social elites that gave "Knives Out" its bite.

A good old-fashioned murder mystery

Really, the less said about the actual plot, the better — everyone deserves to go into the film unspoiled. "Glass Onion" exchanges the cozy aristocratic manor house for a glitzy Greek private island: Less "The Mousetrap," more "Death on the Nile." Miles Bron (Edward Norton, in a send-up of tech bros like Elon Musk) invites a group of his closest friend to a glamorous weekend getaway in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown. The theme is "murder mystery," and his guests (among them, a prominent scientist, a politician, a model-turned-fast-fashion-mogul, and a men's rights activist with a thriving social media following) must solve his "murder." Predictably, things soon take a lethal turn. But not to worry: Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, returning and having the time of his life) has received a mysterious invitation to this party, and is soon on the case.

To say much more would give too much away, but suffice it to say, "Glass Onion" captures so many of the elements that made the first film an unexpected hit. Although it features a different visual language, moving from the world of an eccentric WASP's over-stuffed New England mansion to a cold and, at times, absurdly modern Mediterranean estate, it is unwavering in its commitment to skewering the elite. The heart of these films is in its framing of the ruling class as hypocritical and inherently corrupt. Where the murder mystery genre that "Glass Onion" pays tribute to often glamorizes the wealthy elite (even while shining a light on their social ills), "eat the rich" is very much the lens through which to view both of these films.

A worthy successor to Knives Out

The entire cast is excellent, although some members of the crew aren't quite as well-developed as others — Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr. feel particularly underutilized. But as a whole, "Glass Onion" succeeds in finding a worthy group of social elites to lampoon, their livelihoods allowing Rian Johnson the ability to broaden his scope, taking on many of the different destructive forces that run society. Still, although this political undercurrent is obvious throughout the film, it never gets in the way of the unique sense of humor Johnson cultivates. "Glass Onion" is every bit as funny as "Knives Out," and just as full of surprises. The temptation with these types of films is to try to solve the murder along with Benoit Blanc — Johnson supports these efforts, all while cheerfully undercutting them over and over again.

To its writer's credit, "Glass Onion" is an emotionally satisfying movie to watch, a quality that contributed to the success of its predecessor. It's not quite perfect, though. The decision to frame the story within the COVID-19 pandemic gives the film a slow opening before it's allowed to get to the good stuff and might make it come across as dated earlier than it would otherwise (especially since it doesn't really need the presence of the lockdown for the film to make sense). There is occasionally an over-reliance on name-dropping and pop culture references that borders on laziness, and if you felt like "Knives Out" was on the nose with its political commentary, you will probably experience that feeling again.

The Benoit Blanc Cinematic Universe

Overall, though, these are small complaints, and they take little away from the final product. "Glass Onion" represents Rian Johnson's unique and singular vision, proving that it is possible to make a compelling follow-up to a massive crowd-pleaser. With a cast of effortlessly talented dramatic and comedic performances — chief among them Janelle Monae, who steals the show and never looks back — they are able to bring to life a film that at once pays tribute to its genre while also casting a playfully malevolent eye on the stakeholders in modern society. 

Daniel Craig has gone on record saying that he would play Benoit Blanc in Rian Johnson movies for as long as he can, and it's clear that he finds this some of the most creatively engaging work he's been involved with for quite some time. Far from the character becoming just an exaggerated version of himself (Jack Sparrow-ized, if you will), Craig finds new notes to the plucky detective that make him even more compelling. With a clever script, characters that perfectly satire the modern ruling class, and the crowd-pleasing antics that won over "Knives Out" audiences, "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" is a pure delight.