One of the oldest and most satisfying pleasures in storytelling is watching the smartest person in the room outwit a bunch of assholes. The whodunit mystery is that notion writ large, and since Kenneth Branagh has decided to give us two of the most mediocre modern whodunits imaginable with his Hercule Poirot films, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) has taken it upon himself to deliver the goods. In 2019, Johnson’s Knives Out was a welcome big-screen revival of the mystery-comedy with an impeccable cast, smirking satire and one of the sharpest genre screenplays in several years.
Thankfully, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) did not find his next case — titled Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery — delayed by the pandemic (which plays a role in the story here, albeit a mercifully small one). The film hits Netflix on Friday. And with its release comes some good news: If you enjoyed the first film (and frankly, what’s not to like about Knives Out?) … you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a great time with its sequel. Everything that was so great about the original is still great here — a top-rate cast playing rich jerks, Daniel Craig’s goofy southern drawl (working overtime in this outing) and a mystery that’s always several steps ahead of the audience.
Of course, a first-time viewing of any movie like this hinges on knowing as little about the plot as possible, so I won’t be revealing any details beyond the opening few minutes. A group of wealthy socialites — played by a truly stunning ensemble including the likes of Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom, Jr. — are called to spend a weekend at the mansion of an Elon Musk-like billionaire (Edward Norton) for cryptic reasons. Oh, and world-renowned detective Benoit Blanc is there too, and naturally something happens that requires his sleuthing skills.
If there is any legitimate grievance to be had with Glass Onion, it’s that, like many sequels, this is more or less a remake of its predecessor. Yes, most whodunits follow an identical formula, but even the broad satirical elements are the same: Rich people are dicks and will do monstrous things to preserve their wealth and image. If the actors playing them weren’t so damned good at their jobs, the fact they’re all caricatures would be grating. Luckily, they are that good at their jobs, so despite the plot taking an entire hour to kick in, it’s a blast to watch charming movie stars simply stand around and hurl insults at each other in the meantime.
Given Musk’s continued self-destruction and humiliation on Twitter, plenty will be made about Edward Norton’s character of Miles Bron. Indeed, placing such an obvious Musk parody at the forefront of your film right before all this happened is a bizarre coincidence. But Musk is just the latest in an endless line of rich buffoons with too much confidence and too little self-awareness. There honestly isn’t a ton to the social messaging in either of Johnson’s Knives Out films. And that’s OK! Glass Onion is first and foremost a goof; this is a movie that features Bautista shouting “I love boobs” and Craig mugging it up like T. Boone Pickens. It’s delightful.
So even if this Knives Out mystery comes with the mildest aftertaste of diminishing returns, it’s nonetheless better than almost anything playing at your local theater on any given day. Johnson puts these things together with such confidence that I seriously found myself fidgeting in my seat during the first 10 minutes like a goddamn 13-year-old kid. It’s an all-too-rare feeling to watch a film knowing you’re in the hands of a great storyteller and to have no idea where they’re about to take you. With so few surprises at the movies these days, you can’t really hope for much more than that.