glass onion knives out sequel review

The all-star whodunit sequel Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a delicious treat

4 out of 5 stars

Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his brief stint as a Star Wars director was an unexpected hit. In 2019, Knives Out completely captured the public’s imagination, offering a new cinematic detective and a delectable cast of characters on a silver platter. Following the model of the murder mystery genre, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery doesn’t represent a continuation of the first film but a different case for Benoit Blanc to solve. 

Set in the early days of the pandemic, the film focuses on a wealthy and influential group of friends who all receive a mysterious puzzle box from the eccentric Musk-like billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). They’ve been invited to a Grecian island/tech-heavy compound for Miles’s birthday. He has organized a “murder-mystery party,” but unbeknownst to the guests, someone will actually die. Without losing track of what makes Knives Out so much fun, Rian Johnson crafts a unique and unexpected adventure. The sequel is cozy and mysterious, but the structure departs heavily from the first film.

Watching Glass Onion, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the sense of playfulness born out of sincere reverence for the genre. The cast, which includes Kate Hudson, Janelle Monáe, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr., all strike a careful balance of reprehensible and charming, setting the scene for an elaborate whodunit. Craig, as Blanc, comes more fully into his own, taking up a lot more space within the story without losing his bumbling mystique. 

The Knives Out films shine with a glossy Hollywood sheen. By evoking the golden era of star-studded spectacles, the movie explodes with excess. Everyone is lit just right, their costumes rich in personality and their chemistry palpable. The production design leans into the maximalist bad taste of the uber-wealthy, showcasing a style of decorating that can be best described as “expensive” rather than tasteful or intentional.

The film similarly takes pleasure in language, not just the unique tics of particular characterizations but the hollow double-speak of the tech world. The film, which premiered a few months ago at TIFF, almost feels prescient for its representation of Miles as a kind of false god as he makes up words and misinterprets key concepts, reaping the genius of those around him for his selfish benefit. Almost worshipped as a god, he has long bought into his delusions as the second coming. If anything, in Elon Musk’s Twitter era, the characterization feels almost mild.

Suppose the film has a significant flaw, partly due to genre restrictions. Focused so much on the ins and outs of the plot, a carefully woven tapestry that can so easily unfold, there is little room to explore big ideas in earnest. Both Knives Out films can be read as critiques of the 1%, as the wealthy characters are universally portrayed as greedy, self-interested narcissists, yet the critique rarely transcends the surface. In a world where the alternative for mystery fans is the bloated Kenneth Branagh Poirot films, it’s easy to overlook that Knives Out doesn’t take on too much.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery works best if you know as little as possible going in. It’s a movie that brims with cynicism over how far our social interactions have devolved, though it’s also strangely hopeful that there are people out there who have values and are willing to fight to preserve them. It’s clear that while Johnson breaks some fundamental rules of the murder mystery (I can’t say which ones without ruining the fun), that willingness to break with tradition is also a kind of tradition. Part of what makes Johnson’s films so fun is that he doesn’t cop out and indulge in nostalgia, choosing instead to embrace the noise and over-abundance of our online lives. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (directed Rian Johnson)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Nov. 25. The film will start streaming on Netflix on Friday, Dec. 23.

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