Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig create a giddily entertaining follow-up to 2019’s Knives Out in a thoroughly different, incredibly irreverent, new mystery
Starring Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista
Having watched Rian Johnson’s sequel to critically acclaimed 2019 film Knives Out, it is clear that he has a very clear directorial and authorial vision of what the Benoit Blanc cinematic universe should be – and that is something deviously, enthralling camp and unserious. Camp as a word is tricky to define, as enmeshed as it is with homophobia and gender expression, but here Johnson leans far more into the over-the-top, heightened nature of the murder mystery melodrama and acting style than he did in Knives Out.
From the start, Glass Onion is full to the brim with outlandish, outrageous characters and barely pauses for breath between back-to-back quips. Throughout, there is devilish delectation in eschewing the traditional formula of a murder mystery, from the fact that the movie takes a generous amount of time to even alight at the promised murder, to the way that the entire story unravels.
Glass Onion is a wholly different monster to Knives Out. The bleary, autumnal mansion of the Thrombeys is replaced by the glittering ocean and blistering sunshine of billionaire Miles Bron’s (Edward Norton) private island. Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the ridiculously accented genius, finding himself unstimulated during COVID lockdown, is delighted to receive an invitation to Bron’s murder mystery game at his mansion the Glass Onion. Arriving there, Benoit finds himself intruding upon an old friendship group, consisting of scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn), PR nightmare Birdie (Kate Hudson), accompanied by her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and social media meninist Duke (Dave Bautista) who is joined by his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). Additionally, there is Bron’s former business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe), whose history with the rest of the group threatens to unravel a host of secrets between the group and the ambitious billionaire at its heart.
While many of the dynamics of the first film revolved around a multi-generational old money family, Glass Onion unites its core cast with a sense of self-interest. They are pulled into each other’s company through a sense of how they might benefit from the situation, creating a vast array of motives for the central mystery.
Of particular note are the outrageous and hilarious Duke Cody, played by Dave Bautista, as an especially tongue-in-cheek men’s rights activist with some brilliant one-liners, as well as Kate Hudson‘s Birdie, who is monstrously dim though infinitely watchable nonetheless, as is the outright panic assistant Peg endures every time she opens her simple mouth. All the cast feast on the heightened drama, turning in boisterously over-the-top performances that is addictive to spectate. Edward Norton as the ruthlessly ambitious billionaire is also a glorious send-up to many other self-important new money folk, who shall rename nameless.
In the same way that Knives Out made a household name of Ana de Armas, so should this film catapult Janelle Monáe to stardom. Of course, Monáe is already known as an accomplished singer, though her acting here is simply revelatory. She performs an awful lot of narrative heavy lifting that is near-impossible to analyse without revealing plot information, but the depth of her ability to communicate with merely a look is phenomenal. She is the emotional heart of the movie and simply unmissable in every scene she is in. Though the Knives Out franchise is glorious for its new cast within each instalment, a brilliant case could be made for her character to continue forwards into Netflix’s planned third film.
Glass Onion also starts to peel back some layers – though not many – about Blanc himself. Much has been made of his spurious accent, but here it becomes clear that an awfully large part of Blanc’s persona is how much of it is artifice. Fiendishly intelligent though he is, here Blanc seems to be almost impish in his delight of the chaos that he creates around him. Much like Bron’s self-stylisation, Blanc is himself a “disruptor”, a gleeful catalyst to the destruction that unfolds around him.
With a razor-sharp, witty script, stunning cinematography and astounding performances, Glass Onion is an incredibly assured sequel which feels tonally refreshing and wholly unique.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is streaming now on Netflix.