‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’ Unpeels Into a Delightfully Quirky Sleuth Experience

Ensemble murder mysteries need very good characters, a great locale and a payoff believable enough with tinges of goofiness. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” scores on all these points, while leaving room for some sly social commentary. It is director Rian Johnson’s follow up to his smash 2019 hit “Knives Out,” which updated a genre pioneered by authors like Agatha Christie with great style and delirious fun. Calling this new movie a sequel is a bit off the mark, since it’s more of a fresh entry, or a whole new adventure, featuring master detective Benoit Blanc, played again by Daniel Craig with a silky Southern accent.  Johnson meticulously crafts a simple yet layered new mystery that becomes about the experience of watching the ensemble go nuts.

The first “Knives Out” took place in the classic setting of a wealthy family’s estate, as they tried to solve the death of their patriarch. “Glass Onion” takes aim at tech bro culture. It begins with a gang of old friends receiving a box of puzzles, inviting them to a special gathering. They are a former model now turned goofball influencer Birdie (Kate Hudson), aspiring politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn), Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), a YouTuber who rants about men’s rights and guns, his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), scientific genius Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) and the more enigmatic Andi (Janelle Monáe). Also receiving a box, despite having no apparent connection to the group, is Blanc. They are all invited to a lavish estate on a Greek island owned by billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who wants to spend three days playing a murder mystery game while touting his latest plan to use an invention by Lionel to make clean energy. Crowning the estate is a vast chamber, the Glass Onion, which is essentially Miles’s brain center. The gang all call themselves “The Disruptors,” because of their rebellious ways. But is Blanc here? He believes Miles might be in danger, and a murder on site soon proves there’s something darker to this weekend getaway.

“Glass Onion” can be enjoyed on the level of a brain-teaser mystery, written by Johnson with plenty of wit, inside jokes and effectively simple humor. Johnson also knows how to combine a popcorn escape with commentary on the times. The story is set in May 2020, with everyone in lockdown and Blanc going crazy because there are no cases to solve. In “Knives Out,” made at the height of the Trump presidency, Johnson threw in biting satire about immigration. In “Glass Onion,” we hang out with a different circle of the privileged. Birdie keeps getting into trouble for making tweets and public appearances that are obviously racist to everyone but her. Duke is one of those alpha male types who bemoans America losing its masculinity and carries a gun at all times, even on his swim shorts. Claire is a politician who gets preachy about climate change but will happily take a billionaire’s endorsement. And of course Miles is obviously modeled on Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, who have reached such monetary heights that they are convinced of their own, God-like brilliance. The Louvre in Paris is even allowing Miles to hold on to the original Mona Lisa as collateral for a big loan.

By adding satire, accompanied with his eye for dynamic images, Johnson keeps the genre fresh. “Glass Onion” avoids feeling like another Christie knock-off, and even surpasses this year’s adaptation of “Death on the Nile.” Making it even more enjoyable is how Johnson likes to comment on the genre itself. Blanc hates playing Clue and can ruin your murder mystery dinner party by figuring out the case before it even gets started. The usual moments we expect, like someone sneaking around the bushes and catching the wrong people engaged in a tryst, or poolside conversations holding clues we will realize later, still work because of the humor and energy. The cast all feel like they themselves are on vacation, basking in the dialogue and sun-kissed locale. Kate Hudson gets to play a ditz while Dave Bautista seems to truly enjoy flexing a Ben Shapiro meets Hulk Hogan persona. 

The murder mystery itself gets quite entangled, as it should, before concluding on the very simple message that we should be cautious with the image presented to us by these famous billionaires always grabbing headlines. The big finale is a hilariously fiery middle finger at the idea of men so powerful they feel they can buy anything. Daniel Craig by now is a complete natural in his role, giving Blanc a restless intelligence and also Southern refinement. He will forever be James Bond in the imagination of many viewers, but knows how to make this character his own. “Glass Onion” may not be as exhilarating as “Knives Out,” but it’s an excellent follow up, posing some good questions to follow, characters to root for and pity, and a resolution with more to say than just who the guilty party is.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” begins streaming Dec. 23 on Netflix.