By: Jeff Ching
Knives Out was a surprise hit. But while it was a fun murder mystery, it wasn’t particularly memorable for me, nor was I clamouring for a sequel. When I read that Netflix had spent $450 million on two sequels, I could not justify why they would spend that much…though I also asked why they would spend $200 million on The Gray Man. After watching Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, I believe the streaming giant spent their money well, and it may pay off during awards season. This second movie is far more visually stunning than the original, and I sure hope Oscar shines on the art directors behind the creative production design. A bigger budgeted sequel usually leads to an uninspired filmmaker who is hungry for big paycheque, but I’m happy to say that is not the case for writer/director Rian Johnson. I believe he’s made a movie that’s more eccentric and creative than Knives Out.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery works as a standalone movie. It doesn’t require knowledge or memory of its predecessor since this movie offers a new mystery with new characters with the obvious exception being detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, who seems like he’s having a lot more fun with this character than he did as James Bond).
Billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites his friends to stay on his private island for the weekend to play a murder mystery game. Along with his friends, an invitation is also sent to detective Blanc, who’s been miserable during the pandemic since the lockdown resulted in no crimes to solve. To also make things interesting, Miles invites his ex-girlfriend Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), to which Miles’ circle of friends are all shocked to see her show up. But, of course, Johnson’s movie isn’t just about everyone having fun and playing a cool murder mystery game. We know the set-up: someone will die, everyone becomes a suspect, Benoit Blanc will have a mystery to solve and the movie goer can have fun wearing their detective hat too.
Circling back to the cool production design, we’re introduced to the characters when they receive their invite. Instead of just receiving a standard paper in the mail, they receive an elaborate futuristic cube with puzzles that will allow them access to different parts of the cube. This is a sleek gadget and the editing is really well done, intercutting the different characters solving the puzzles to get to the invitation. It seems like the kind of invite that Elon Musk would send out for his birthday party. Despite the innovation, it wasn’t enough to distract me from the limp comedy that the movie begins with. However, Johnson’s movie gradually becomes funnier once the ensemble is together and all hell breaks loose. The way Benoit Blanc eviscerates a certain character’s pretentiousness and lack of intelligence in one of his monologues got the biggest laugh in the theatre.
Roughly halfway into the movie, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery drops a key piece of information that changes everything. It provides a lot of backstory and depth, and truly kicks the movie into an elevated gear. The movie goes all “Rashomon” – revisiting events we’ve already seen, but from different perspectives.
For the whodunnit element, I may have guessed wrong in Knives Out, but Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery was much easter (predicted the killer about 40 minutes into the movie). Granted, and apologies if this is TMI, but over the past few years, I have read a ton of murder mystery novels on the toilet, so I’d like to think my intuition for mysteries has gotten better over years of long bowel movements and not the fault of a predictable screenplay. I’ll be curious to see if other people found the whodunnit angle predictable. The film’s climax is also a little silly, bordering on straight-up ridiculousness. It felt like Rian Johnson indulged his inner Michael Bay (“hey, with all this money we have, let’s blow up a bunch’a stuff!”).
I don’t remember Knives Out well enough to compare which ensemble cast was better, but Glass Onion’s is flawless. I’ve already mentioned Craig and Norton who are having so much fun with their roles. I haven’t seen Kate Hudson in a long time, but she is hilarious playing a dim-witted social media influencer. In Knives Out, despite having a cast of high profile and experienced actors, relative unknown Ana de Armas got the biggest role and put on the best performance. Same goes for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Musician-turn-actor Janelle Monáe (Moonlight, Hidden Figures) probably has the least acting experience of the cast, but her character is given the most depth, intrigue and mystery. Monáe absolutely commands the screen. If any of the actors get an Oscar nomination, it will be her.
Glass Onion: A Knives out Mystery is a very entertaining whodunnit. To be totally transparent, I normally dread going into a long movie. Johnson’s second Knives Out mystery is 139 minutes, but the runtime flies by. While I’m sure many will disagree, I think this is a rare case where the sequel is better than the original. Is Glass Onion a top tier mystery? Not quite. There is a superior murder mystery from 2020 that very few people have seen; a Canadian movie called The Kid Detective. It’s funnier, darker, morbidly twisted, and a movie that you will never forget.
While Glass Onion will be on Netflix soon, this movie should be seen on the big screen. It looks like Netflix has found its blockbuster franchise: the formula is solid, the ensembles are stacked and unpredictable (please, get Nicolas Cage for the next one!), and Johnson’s characterizations are memorable and off-the-wall. If the quality is improving with each movie, part three ought to be a well-crafted treat.
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Read more of Jeff Ching’s thoughts on film at The Ching of Comedy’s blog.