“It’s dangerous to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.”
So says Benoit Blanc, detective extraordinaire, as he speaks with Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), an influencer who, by her own metric “tells it like it is,” and who, by the metric of pretty much everyone else, “likes to say ignorant shit in a public forum.” Her type is just one of many being lampooned in Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, the sequel to his subversive, trope-expanding take on the murder mystery format, Knives Out.
It’s a sillier, more cartoonish set of characters this time around, but the world we live in is also increasingly silly and cartoonish (and tragically so). The year is 2020, COVID-19 is running rampant, and Benoit Blanc is getting a bit stir-crazy. Smoking cigars and drinking while sitting in his bathtub, he cannot find an outlet for his mighty and powerful brain and it’s driving him and those around him nuts. A blessing comes in the form of a puzzle box which, at its center, contains an invitation to a private, elite “murder mystery weekend.”
Naturally, Blanc accepts.
He’s not alone in the receiving the invite. The aforementioned Birdie Jay is there, as is Joe Rogan knockoff Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), techie/inventor Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), image conscious politician Clare Debella (Kathryn Hahn), and the host’s ex-girlfriend and former business partner Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe). The host, Miles Bron (Edward Norton) is a bit Elon Musk, a bit Steve Jobs, and a lot “so rich that he can buy his way into looking smart without actually being very smart.”
That’s a redundant statement, though, isn’t it?
What brings this diverse roster of idiots together? Well, to quote Miles, they are all “disruptors.” Meaning that they are all people who bucked the status quo in their own unique way, and who have turned a profit as a result. If the first film poked fun at the stuffy closed-off world of the generationally wealthy, Glass Onion points its knives at very new money, and does so in an equally scathing way.
As these things tend to go, the faux-murder mystery soon becomes a real murder mystery, and it’s up to Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, having an absolute blast) to not just solve the mystery, but to keep himself alive AND classy. You won’t believe the outfits on this guy.
While the first film featured Blanc as more of a supporting player, existing as a watchful eye over an exponentially twisty mystery, this sequel places him at the center of the story, making him the focal point as well as the audience surrogate. This is pretty standard for the serialized mystery novels the KO films aim to subvert. The first entry is typically about whichever mystery Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot must solve, but the subsequent stories are increasingly about the detective himself. It’s a smart move if the Blanc mysteries are to continue, and if Rian Johnson is to be believed, he plans to make these for as long as he is able.
The laughs come quickly and regularly, stemming from smart satire, wild dialogue, and a quippy edit that finds many punchlines through simple filmic construction. Many mystery tropes are cleverly stomped upon, including the old reliable “lights go out and a body appears.” And wait until you see the hilarious way a dramatic orchestral burst is weaved diegetically into proceedings. The structure, too, is upended, boldly invoking flashbacks in surprising ways.
The result is a dense, but never confusing mystery that not only tickles the mind, but develops our hero in big ways. Benoit Blanc is a smart, classy guy, but he also has his human limitations. It’s easy to look smart in a room full of idiots, but we know he’s uniquely intelligent well beyond that. The idiots in this case bring out his humanity. He’s not a Superman by any stretch, but he remains aspirational nonetheless for his ability to be genuine, kind, and helpful even when dealing with the worst the world has to offer.
Like its predecessor, there are times when the plot threatens to get unwieldy, but Johnson’s script tends to gather its pieces just before it has a chance to topple. The film is so colorful and funny that it’s hard to fault it for going so big. It does push the limits of goodwill on cameos, however. There are a bunch of them here, and most work well enough to avoid that Apatow-ian style of replacing jokes with “look at all my famous friends, aren’t we cute?” There is one, however, that feels crammed in as if access to said celebrity came first and then a gag was written around it so as to not miss the opportunity. Small potatoes, but it does give this already more heightened entry in the burgeoning series a bit too much by way of inherent falsity.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will have a short theatrical run starting 11/23 before becoming available on Netflix on 12/23. It may be tempting to wait for home release, but it plays very well with a crowd and is worth seeing on the big screen. With a script so packed with clever beats, I’m sure it rewatches quite well at home. So do both. It’s what Benoit Blanc would want.
Directed by Rian Johnson
Written by Rian Johnson
Starring Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista
Rated PG-13, 139 minutes