Rian Johnson had large shoes to fill for the sequel to 2019’s Knives Out, especially regarding its star-studded cast. Part of what made the first film so enthralling was the Thrombey family’s small colony of dysfunctional characters, interacting with each other in such ridiculous and excellent ways it outshone the murder mystery at the film’s centre.
Glass Onion fails to capture that exact atmosphere, though perhaps this is favourable, allowing the film to separately establish itself as something that stands alone, instead of as a sequel trying to fill a relatively large pair of shoes. It’s an independent tale, one connected solely through the return of Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, and harks back to the novels of Agatha Christie where each case is self-contained within its respective novel. Glass Onion is really an equal to Knives Out, not a successor, and going into the film with the expectation it will be a better experience will leave you disappointed. There are of course improvements, but there are also elements too good to change, and a handful of disappointments that could only rear their heads when holding the two films side-by-side.
At the centre of the film lies Craig’s aforementioned gentleman detective, occupying the role with far more ease and confidence than the first outing. With the exception of a key character that shares much of the second act with Blanc, the detective is the star of the show, no longer occupying a backseat role to make way for a different set of eyes through which we experience the mystery. You can tell he’s enjoying the part, sporting several humorously-coloured costumes and snagging some of the film’s best gags. Blanc never feels obstructive to the central mystery, nor out of his league amongst the clues and suspects, a testament to both Johnson’s skill at weaving a detective story and the detective himself with little error or disingenuity. I look forward to the Knives Out franchise’s future, where Craig will undoubtedly continue to build and develop the already excellent Blanc.
With the exception of the smattering of cameos throughout (Hugh Grant is the greatest of them all), the rest of the cast is dedicated to the mystery, five life-long friends, and their companions, to the enigmatic, and at times pretentious, tech billionaire Miles Bron (played by Edward Norton). There are several elements lacking from these guys to be sure, and you’re filled with a sense of longing for the cast of the first throughout the story; Miles and his friends offer a new dynamic, especially in the aftermath of the murder, but it’s not necessarily a good one; they feel too different neither clashing nor gelling with each other as the story progresses.
It feels as though Johnson created each character for a different project, before suddenly deciding they were better off lumped together on a secluded island for Glass Onion. Kathryn Hahn seems to have drawn the shortest straw, and despite attempts to contextualise her relationships through a handful of conversations with Leslie Odom Jr’s Lionel Toussaint, offers nothing, acting solely as another character to doubt and scrutinise. Bautista too, seems wildly out of place, a character with motivations so transparent I would argue he exists solely to justify the inclusion of two items critical to the story. Despite Johnson’s attempts at creating a diverse array of characters, most are painfully two dimensional, occupying space solely to bulk up the suspect list. That being said, Kate Hudson’s Birdie Jay is a scene stealer, and her relationship with her assistant (played delightfully by Jessica Henwick) is great fun, continuously delivering sound punchlines regarding the former’s painfully ignorant stupidity.
That being said, the story at the centre of the film is magnificent, weaving a far more complicated and exciting narrative than the first outing. It’s a substantially classier affair, even if the viewpoints are limited and the flashbacks infrequent. Gone are the multiple narrators, no longer giving testimonies regarding their whereabouts nor complicating the case with their lies. Blanc does no interviews, nor does he spend time investigating every nook and cranny; he is content to take a backseat, delivering speech after speech whilst his only ally on the island sneaks around to assist him. That character is the star of the show, really, but I struggle to add specificity to my praise without revealing, at least in part, their role in the ordeal. Rest assure you will know exactly who I refer to.
To summarise, Glass Onion is a worthy successor to Knives Out, even if it occupies the role of equal far more than sequel. It’s enjoyable, to say the very least, and delightfully entertaining to say more, taking the murder-mystery back to traditions through the holiday destination and a lengthy amount of twists and turns. It’s grander and flashier, even if the central characters lack the drive that made the first set of suspects so enthralling. Take your cocktail of choice in hand and marvel at Johnson’s Covid-era mystery, though take care to avoid the vast number of red herrings as you put your own sleuthing skills to the test.
Glass Onion will be released on Netflix on December 23rd.
Edited by Lydia Leung, Film & TV Head Editor