The keyword in Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s delightfully nimble Knives Out sequel, is disruption. Settled on a Greek island paradise, the friends are pioneering innovators in fashion (Kate Hudson), science (Leslie Odom Jr.), politics (Kathryn Hahn) and toxic masculinity (Dave Bautista). Your host is a smug, nameless, highly hittable billionaire whose resemblance to a certain newly installed social media titan could hardly be better planned or timed. And, of course, a post-007 Daniel Craig is back in the mix as Blanc, Benoit Blanc, that posh Southern sleuth charmer who can always be counted on to disrupt a killer’s schemes, even when serving to to anchor what has become an incredibly solid franchise.
The keys to this franchise now belong to Netflix, and talk disruption! Released three Thanksgivings ago, Knives Out became a smash hit, hinting that there was still hope for smart, funny original films in theaters. I suspect “Glass Onion” would have done the same if given the chance; Instead, it will play in 600 US theaters for just one week before beginning streaming on December 23, just in time to give Netflix a nice Christmas subscriber boost. It also feels like a criminal disservice to the film, an audience image through and through whose devious jokes and brilliant surprises are worth exploring with an audience.
Visit these crowds when you feel so moved; Other people’s laughter can drown out a plot point or two, but you’ll face worse distractions at home. The characters in Glass Onion, for their part, have been locked away for too long. It’s May 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Miles Bron (a perfect Edward Norton), the hittable billionaire mentioned above, has invited his friends over to his private island for a weekend getaway. They happily obey, partly to enjoy a little lockdown luxury, but also because they depend on Miles’ generosity – and therefore his goodwill – to maintain their reputation and livelihood.
That’s not to say that they wish him dead exactly, although Miles’ ex-business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe) may disagree. Fired from the company they founded and expelled from the once close circle of friends, Andi is one of two guests who unexpectedly appear on the island; Blanc is the other.
As the two proven outsiders here, they forge an instinctive bond early on that may remind you a little of Craig’s relationship with Ana de Armas in Knives Out. Maybe this is a red herring on Johnson’s part or mine. Suffice it to say that Monáe’s sublime, surprising performance is one of the film’s greatest joys, as it achieves a weight and versatility that clearly highlights the amusing, if gossip, antics of her co-stars.
In other respects, “Glass Onion” – a nod not only to the Beatles song but also to the great crystalline dome that crowns Miles’ island grounds – subtly evokes and deviates from its predecessor, while retaining the usual maintains high quality standards without too happily slipping into their formula.
As the story picks up steam and accelerates, Johnson once again offers a blunt disembowelment of the privileged and powerful, only with fancier cocktails, flashier knick-knacks and flashier outfits. (An orange ruffled bikini and rainbow-colored lamé dress—both worn by Hudson, though not at the same time—are among costume designer Jenny Eagan’s standout creations; Craig’s vintage blue-and-white striped cabana set is another.)
But if the mansion full of rotten apples in Knives Out moves closer to the classic crime thriller setting, the suspects in Glass Onion are drawn to more contemporary specifications. They may have voted for an outwardly respectable, privately active politician like Claire (Hahn), or laughed at the YouTube videos that made Duke (Bautista) and his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) a popular duo in men’s rights discourse.
Most of these fools — Andi has a less printable word for them — are just one misstep or bad tweet away from cancellation, particularly Hudson’s fashion expert Birdie, whose phone is routinely impounded by her trusty assistant (Jessica Henwick). And then there’s Miles, who, like more than a few self-proclaimed tech visionaries, isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is – something Blanc, for all his courtly manners, likes to point out early and often.
However, cleverness remains Johnson’s tool of the trade. He’s incredibly good at misleading, sneaking clues into throwaway dialogue, and hiding the identities of not only his killers, but his victims as well, for a remarkably long time. And in keeping with the title’s dominant metaphor – a puzzle that’s at once fiendishly complex and utterly transparent – he’s adept enough to hide some of his most incriminating evidence from plain sight. The central mystery hinges on a bold textural coup that evokes a series of dizzying, breathless moments in the film’s second half, as cinematographer Steve Yedlin and editor Bob Ducsay excel at reimagining earlier plot points from revealing new perspectives.
If the actual solution turns out to not be as thoughtful or airtight in its construction as Knives Out was, it’s partly because the satirical dynamic — the disparity between the power Miles wields and the friends living in crouch and simmer in his shadow – don’t quite allow it to stop.
If Johnson’s conception of either film has one weakness, it’s that for all his strong, cohesive work with his cast, he hasn’t found a way to make all of his characters equally compelling. Pointing out which actors did better or worse risks spoiling a few surprises, though it doesn’t reveal anything to repeat the quirky, goofy delight of Craig’s company.
Blanc’s charm as a character is both obvious and multifaceted: his comical confusion belies a razor-sharp intellect, and he often employs his armchair detective showmanship for devious, subversive purposes.
And like Hercule Poirot, Gideon Fell, and many other detectives with great minds and strong speech patterns, Blanc is a moralist and idealist at heart – someone whose sympathies are instinctively with the unjust and the neglected, and who firmly believes in the possibility of justice, even when the law calls for it can not offer. That’s its own kind of disorder I guess, except it also fits a pretty satisfying formula. The Knives Out films don’t need to be reinvented or broken up. But a distributor worthy of her and her audience wouldn’t hurt.
“Glass Onion: A Knives-Out Mystery”
Rated: PG-13, for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content
Duration: 2 hours, 19 minutes
To play: Opens November 23 in general release; available December 23 on Netflix
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-11-22/glass-onion-reiew-knives-out-rian-johnson-daniel-craig-netflix ‘Glass Onion’ review: Daniel Craig is back in ‘Knives Out’ sequel