The brilliant Knives Out was still playing in a few theaters when they closed down for the pandemic in spring 2020. Now the sequel, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, comes to us in a weird release pattern where it’s in theaters for one week only before popping up on Netflix just in time for Christmas. Whichever holiday you decide on to take in this murder mystery, it’s a worthy sequel to that pre-pandemic film that reminded us what the form could do.
The story takes place in the summer of 2020, when Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is going insane from boredom during the lockdown. Salvation arrives in the form of a puzzle box containing an invitation from tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) to spend a weekend on his private Greek island along with a bunch of his longtime friends. Blanc is the only outlier, receiving said invitation despite Miles not sending him one, though he’s happy to play along with and gleefully ruin Miles’ murder mystery game in which the rich dude is the victim. Having done so, Benoit warns his host that inviting so many guests whose lives he effectively owns to a remote island to enact his own murder is like “putting a loaded gun on the table and turning the lights out.” His words are more prophetic than he knows.
With his misuse of big words, his desire to travel into space, and his mindless love of “disruptors,” the emotionally unstable Miles is clearly meant to be Elon Musk. (Weirdly enough, Johnson’s actor buddy Noah Segan, who bears a strong resemblance to Musk, is cast here not as the Musk manqué as a hippie sponging off Miles.) The suspects here aren’t as strongly characterized as the ones in Knives Out, though I do appreciate Kathryn Hahn as a tree-hugging Connecticut governor and Dave Bautista as a Joe Rogan-like men’s-rights blogger.
My murder-mystery bona fides compel me to note that Johnson breaks several of the rules of fair play set down by Monsignor Ronald Knox. (Talk about disruption.) Johnson withholds key information from us in the first hour of the film, revealing it only after a lengthy flashback sequence involving Miles’ screwed-over ex-business partner (Janelle Monáe). The flashback is still a clever piece of storytelling, and even a throwaway comic moment when Benoit’s outdoor cigar smoking triggers a bunch of alarms outside Miles’ house ends up tying into the main plot. So, too, does Miles’ incessant name-dropping, as Benoit makes creative use of bottled hot sauce with Jeremy Renner’s name on it. The detective points out a flaw in his own crime-solving genius, too, admitting that the killer has outsmarted him for long stretches by being really stupid.
Even more than in the original film, there’s a lot that happens here that I can’t discuss without giving too much away. I’ll say that the sequel hits a familiar point of stories about private detectives: The sleuth discovers who the killer is but admits that he has no power to bring that person to justice. The resulting rampage by one of the survivors is a greatly satisfying development that beats anything in the season’s other “eat the rich” satires, Triangle of Sadness or The Menu. Maybe the novelty of Benoit Blanc has worn off (although, watch for the surprise cameo by the actor portraying the detective’s live-in boyfriend), but Glass Onion still holds the delights of a well-plotted puzzle plot and more incidental pleasures. The blogger’s bikini-model girlfriend (Madelyn Cline) rejects the idea of following her man’s path into politics, saying, “The whole man-dom thing is expeditious, but it’s a shitshow.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Starring Daniel Craig and Edward Norton. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Rated PG-13.