Casting the guy who was plucked from playing well-dressed gangsters into being a well-dressed spy to play a southern detective was an immediately effective way to get a laugh. Knives Out played to our desire for light and pleasant fare and gave us a taste of Clue-like murder mysteries, priming us for Only Murders in the Building and even Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. After seeing things like Chris Evans playing a jerk, and Jamie Lee Curtis … playing a jerk, audiences clamored for more of the delightful movie built on sweaters and intrigue. Netflix answered the call, and Rian Johnson returned with a sequel to his charming feature, the fresh mystery of Glass Onion. This newest installment is easy to watch and a lot of fun, making it better suited for a background streaming watch than for a cinematic event.
Benoit Blanc (Craig) is back for another mystery to solve, this time it’s full of meta jokes and self-awareness. Eccentric billionaire, Miles Bron (Edward Norton) has proposed respite from COVID lockdowns to his circle of friends, inviting them to his private Grecian island for a weekend-long murder mystery party. The gang of the series’ signature rich assholes arrives to Miles’ opulent home to find he’s set up a wicked and elaborate game of solving his “murder.” Before the game is set to officially begin, each member of the group reveals more about their possible motives to actually kill Bron, or his former partner, Andie (Janelle Monáe). When an unexpected death-by-poisoning occurs, Blanc and his new acquaintances take on peeling back the layers of this translucent allium to see which of this gang of buttheads was really ready to take a life. What follows is the expected twists and turns of a whodunnit, this time with creative time jumps and competing versions of certain events.
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out sequel appears to be more grandiose but somehow feels smaller. While the first spent a lot of time on a single estate, it took us on journeys throughout the town. Glass Onion maroons us on an island, most of the action taking place in one room. Of course, flashbacks send us to more locations, but this pandemic film feels like one, closing the walls in and giving much of the airtime to a monologuing Blanc stalling through his conclusions. Cameos and COVID in-jokes (which already feel dated, who knows how they’ll play by the film’s release in December) don’t so much stretch beyond the film’s walls as they call attention to how much is stuffed into the tiny setting. In attempting to change it up on the audience and follow a different narrative format, the film feels split between a lengthy establishing sequence and a flashback that retreads it. Much of the setup and setting feels superfluous, making for a shallower second kick at the Knives Out can.
The film trades in the seemingly affable cast playing detestable caricatures of present-day enemies (if you thought Knives Out was filled with Johnson’s reactions to social media, wait’ll you get a load of this). People like Kate Hudson and Kathryn Hahn playing gnarly politicians, corrupt scientists, MRA streamers etc. complement Craig playing a cartoony version of a detective in a way that works well enough. But it only keeps the movie afloat long enough to garner laughs through the opening before becoming apparent that these characters are one-dimensional reactions to our hellish reality, and they won’t be explored beyond that. It’s difficult not to compare it to the first where characters had a bit more depth that played with our shifting desires to love, hate, or trust them. Here, each character has the same motive, the movie instead relies on the meta jokes and flashback gags for story, which, again, makes it feel even smaller.
What’s easy to notice is that no matter how grand and lavish this movie appears, it’s a Netflix movie made for the streamer, and that’s where it will shine. Like its predecessor, Glass Onion is gorgeous and comfortable and will make for cozy background viewing while doing your holiday baking. The first also has this quality but demands much more attention to the details of the mystery. This time, the mystery is straightforward and built on hollow characters and themes, making it even easier to converse during it over a glass of prosecco.
Glass Onion (the title ending there in the film’s title card, “A Knives Out Mystery” be damned) is a beautiful-to-look-at feature that is a total gas. There’s a lot of fun to be had while watching gorgeously costumed, loveable actors flutter through a stunning manor, spitting out lines that allow us to laugh at their expense. There’s no point in yet another of Netflix’s shiny originals that the movie will make you want to turn it off, but it’s more likely you’ll forget you ever turned it on.
Glass Onion is in theaters for one week. It will hit Netflix on December 23, 2022