Sequels are a lot like prostate exams. They’re widely derided, and no one really looks forward to them, but their reputation for being unpleasant is mostly undeserved. Moving away from rectal examinations, Glass Onion, a sequel to the 2019 thriller movie Knives Out, is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t malign sequels.
It’s gripping, hilarious, and whipsmart — the type of movie you want to show your parents on a family movie night. Is it as good as its predecessor? Well, that’ll probably come down to personal preference. But there’s definitely an argument to be made that Glass Onion, which is far grander in scale than Knives Out, surpasses its precursor.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; we have some housekeeping to get out of the way before we plunge our critical knife into the heart of this new detective movie. There will be no spoilers in this review. Director Rian Johnson was emphatic that we do not reveal any of the film’s secrets, and as he and the cast were good enough to show us the film early, we’re going to honour his wishes — that, and because we don’t want to annoy Netflix.
What we can say is that it’s set on a luxury Greek Island, and the film sees Kentucky super sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) take on a new case when he’s called to investigate a murder at the home of the billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton).
The potential suspects? A colourful cast of total weirdos, of course, including the scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr), Claire (Kathyrn Hahn), the governor of Connecticut, a faded fashionista named Birdie (Kate Hudson), Duke (Dave Bautista), a men’s rights activist, and Miles’ former business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe),
And I’m afraid that’s all the plot we’re willing to discuss because if we mentioned anything else, we’d risk spoiling things and shattering the whole mystery like a drunk dropping a glass. What we can say about the puzzle at the heart of Glass onion is that it’s wonderfully wicked in its complexity.
Johnson manages to playfully subvert what you think a murder mystery has to be, playing with some of the genre’s best-known cliches and subverting your expectations like with his Star Wars movie. What’s lovely is that he does so while making the mystery complement the film’s broader themes of appearances being deceiving and the silliness of making assumptions.
This high-minded mischievousness makes the whole movie incredibly entertaining to watch as you try and follow its deliberately labyrinthian plot. Thankfully, Craig’s Blanc is a rather charming guide who never loses the audience. That said, Blanc’s far from the only charmer in Johnson’s star-studded cast.
Despite there being so many of them, all of the supporting cast feel well-developed and rounded. It helps that Johnson’s deliberately relied on modern-day archetypes. As such, he can be economical with the writing. In other words, Johnson doesn’t need to spend too much time showing you the meninist Duke is a colossal knob because you already know men who spend their time whining about women on YouTube are knobs.
The same’s true of his other characters; you know who they are the moment you see them, but the truly impressive thing is that despite all of the characters being rather well-worn, they never feel flat or clichéd. I put that down to the intelligent writing and the exceptional cast. There’s not a bad actor in the bunch, but if we had to choose an MVP, it would be Monáe.
The nature of the film means we can’t talk too much about Monáe’s character, but she is mind-bogglingly good in Glass Onion, capturing two surprisingly stark facets of her character with almost effortless grace. She also enjoys fantastic chemistry with Craig, who we’d be remiss in forgetting to mention.
Glass Onion, unlike Knives Out, rounds out Blanc’s character. We learn about his personal life, who he is when he’s not on a case, and his methods. In Knives Out, he was almost an antagonist for Marta (Ana De Armas), who believed herself to be the killer, but in this, he’s an out-and-out hero, and Craig clearly relishes playing the eccentric detective.
He’s probably the funniest character in the film, although it’s a close-run thing. As a whole, Glass Onion is laugh-out-loud funny throughout. There’s just a natural liveliness to the movie that gives it a natural mischievous charm, yet despite playing with the absurd, it never falls over into outright silliness. Instead, it walks that fine line between goofy and surreal, no mean feat for a film also balancing a mystery.
It helps that Glass Onion looks more like a glossy high-end drama and less like a silly comedy movie. Seriously it’s absolutely gorgeous. Cinematographer Steve Yedlin does a beautiful job capturing that indefinable magic of the Grecian sun in summer. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit jealous of how warm everyone looked.
If I had any minor complaints about Glass Onion, it would probably be that it takes Johnson a little while to manoeuvre all his chess pieces into place. As a result, the first act is a little plodding at times, but once the board is set, the film’s pace dramatically improves, and Johnson executes the final reveal with the speed of a master chess player checkmating an opponent.
I know Glass Onion won’t be for everyone. Like its predecessor, it’s a movie you could easily label ‘smug’ if you really wanted to, but I think more people will fall in love with it than not. Like its lead detective, it’s just too charming not to.
A murder mystery with a weird but brilliant sense of humour.