The first Knives Out was a nonstop delight: a modern detective caper built upon and breaking down the murder mystery. So when Netflix ponied up to Rian Johnson for the 2nd feature, the director naturally decided “private Mediterranean island” as anyone would. Glass Onion is as delightful as the original, with Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig having a ball with their new fun franchise and new cast in a new murder mystery.
We’re in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. Life is hard… but ESPECIALLY for rich people. Billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) decides he’s been alone for long enough (about 2 months or so?). So he invites his closest friends to quarantine on his private island near Greece. Those people include his head scientist Lionel Touissant (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Twitch streaming extraordinaire Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and his beautiful girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). However, apparently two extra “Puzzle Boxes” went out unbeknownst to Miles: Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monae) had a messy business breakup with the billionaire. And the last invite is the famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), frustrated with dumb Among Us matches and excited to be challenged by a mystery again.
I guess Rian Johnson now has a through line for the Benoit Blanc Brainteasers: lifestyles of the rich and the famous. In particular: the abject destruction of the aura around them. Everyone around Miles, including his best friends, tell him how great he is. That constant praise creates just insane levels of hubris and narcissism, justifying inviting the world’s greatest detective to a murder mystery party you crafted yourself for example. Every minute or so, Johnson shows examples of rich vanity worthy of laughing at: inspired celebrity endorsements of things like hard kombucha, complete selling of self for views/likes, and superior healthcare products, all on a gorgeous private island complex driven there on a multimillion dollar yacht. But nothing does Johnson have more fun writing for than Kate Hudson’s Birdie Jay: the epitome of privileged excess. Just a hint at how fun she is as a character: we first see her with her “quarantine circle” of…what clearly appears to be orgy members, recounting her latest small PR foible by calling someone “Jewey” only to show up the next scene with a “breath through” mask for fashion purposes, of course. This is all very droll until Johnson reminds us why it isn’t, and how money can cover up nearly everything if you have enough of it.
But even if mocking wealthy people isn’t your bag, Glass Onion is still going to be a streaming gas. Johnson proved he’s a great murder mystery writer already, so this new one gives him a chance to flex a little more. He finds more tropes and story beats of these movies and puts a fun spin on them. One favorite I can’t spoil but one I can is how Johnson chooses to “reveal” the killer in his monologue: unexpected, but delightful nonetheless. Every cast member couldn’t be happier to be here as well. Hudson, mentioned above, does some of her best work since Almost Famous, really leaning hard into a hyper narcissistic, racist version of herself. Janelle Monae has the juiciest new role, really leaning hard into the murder mystery lore and having fun with it. Edward Norton really dimwits himself delightfully as Miles, a man who is way less clever than his money says he is. Madelyn Cline wonderfully upends the “sexy but wandering eyed female” archetype, and even though we don’t get enough of them, Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr. bring some semblance of reality to the movie. Fresh off Bond, Daniel Craig happily stands front and center as Rian Johnson’s Benoit Blanc, dialing down the accent just a hair but still hamming it up with the delicious writing Johnson provides him. Most of all, Rian Johnson puts all of these pieces together like a movie entertainment puzzle, jumping around to give the audience the most fun they could possibly have.
Movies don’t need superheroes in metal suits to be entertaining. Sherlock Holmes proved that a clever mind can be just as fun to watch as anything else, when written right. Well, thanks to Rian Johnson, big budget entertainment has found a new lane, driven by Benoit Blanc and the modern murder mystery. I hope we keep getting more of these, to the point we get to an inevitable Bond/Blanc crossover event for the ages with Craig playing twins.