Do you know how sequels can be tough to follow in Hollywood? There are such rare occasions where they can be better than the original. These days, you will have top-tier masterpieces like The Empire Strikes Back and Top Gun: Maverick. Or majorly need help learning the hardest of lessons after failures, like Highlander 2: The Quickening or Taken 2. If fans are afraid writer/director Rian Johnson won’t strike lightning again with Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, they won’t be disappointed, proving he’s always someone to trust with a franchise.
In the early months of the pandemic, world-renowned detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is bored because of a lack of solving new cases. A strange puzzle box was delivered to him, as well as a few other people: Connecticut governor running for senate Clarie Debella (Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), supermodel turned fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), and men’s rights activist/ popular Twitch streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista). They’ve all been invited to their tech billionaire friend Miles Bron (Edward Norton) for a much-needed weekend getaway outside of lockdown to his private island in Greece called the Glass Onion. Along with Birdie’s assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), Duke’s girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline, Outer Banks), and the unexpected arrival of the former member of the “disruptors” and Miles’ former business partner Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monae), they will take part in a murder mystery game. But before the game can begin, Blanc’s place on the guest list might not be what it seems.
Think back to 2019 and remember how great of a year it was for film. Though what was one of the best films to come out that fall? Answer: Knives Out. Rian Johnson’s commentary on the used-to-be-forgotten whodunit genre was a surprise hit, thanks to a great cast of familiar faces and a true sense of fun in the style of Agatha Christie stories. One of my absolute favorites that holds up three years later, and I seriously don’t trust anybody who doesn’t like it. Not only was it the second highest-grossing original film that year, but it finally earned the beloved writer/director an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. But initially, I didn’t think we needed a sequel because it would’ve been nice to be a one-off thing instead of turning it into a potential franchise. But according to AC/DC, “Money Talks.”
The fact the highly talked about sequel wasn’t going to theaters and Netflix brought the rights for $469 million didn’t sit well with me when it should be a movie everybody should see (only released for one week during Thanksgiving). Regardless, this was one of my most anticipated films of the year. I didn’t want to watch any trailer for Glass Onion since they already know I will spend two hours watching another special Benoit Blanc case where he’s putting all the pieces together. The less I know, the better I want the experience to be. So all I needed to know was the first reactions out of the Toronto International Film Festival and hope it’ll come to theaters. And finally seeing it proves this is how you make a sequel as I walked out of the latest murder-mystery installment loving it.
We’re looking at a straight standalone/ anthology movie where it doesn’t need to address the events of what went down with the dysfunctional Thrombey family. Coming up with a new idea for the genre could’ve been stressful for Johnson to come up with since he nailed it the first time for a whodunnit. Still, he does a great job at not being a complete rehash of the original with the same formula and keeping it separate in the same universe yet making it bigger and better than he ever could. This is another story with Blanc caught in the middle of individuals who could have different motivations, probably centered on deception within the rich circle of friends. Like an onion, Johnson’s screenplay has layers, and it peels back to turn I wasn’t smart enough to conclude with.
The mystery itself came across as more intriguing and clever than the first. Even the change of location of his large estate in the warm environment of Greece gives off a lot more breathing room with the murder mystery at its core, to where the fall of the New England setting of the Thrombey mansion feels claustrophobic. And I can sit back and enjoy a good mystery because it can take me in one direction, knowing where it’s going, and ultimately pull the rug under me in a good way, being amazed at where the structure’s going afterward. That could’ve made me nervous, but it becomes so damn compelling. And, as I mentioned, staying away from the trailers made it more fun.
As for the new cast in this installment, it might be impossible to compare which ensemble is better. Every casting announcement got me more excited. But it’s a good thing to know almost everybody has a moment to shine with their respective characters more than before, having such a great time filming. Craig, once again, doesn’t disappoint in reprising his now iconic role as Benoit Blanc. Still continuing to be the Southern Hercule Poirot, who’s at the wrong place at the wrong time, using his smarts to uncover the truth the only way he can. I’m enjoying how this is quickly becoming a more fun character to slip back than his tenure as James Bond (which I still is great). He also has a lot more screen time.
But who would I say were my favorites? I’d have to go with Monae and Norton. Norton always does a great job at playing smug, unlikable people (Birdman, The Italian Job), but also playing someone who is a “genius” who doesn’t own a smartphone and uses fax machines instead. This character makes Elon Musk look dumber by comparison. But nobody is prepared for how incredible Monáe dominates every scene they’re in. Monae is regarded as the movie’s MVP because the circumstances of their character, Andi, initially seem mysteriously complex or when they share scenes with Craig to the point, I wouldn’t dare to spoil. Monáe first caught my attention as an actor after making a name for themself in Moonlight and Hidden Figures, respectively. I’ll say they’re basically the sequel’s Ana de Armas.
But it’s filled with likable actors from Bautista, Hudson, Hahn, Odom Jr., Henwick (who didn’t do much), and Cline. Out of everybody who I was expecting the least, Kate Hudson shocked me. Honestly, she’s never been one of my favorite actresses (my mom isn’t a fan either). But her performance as the petty careless Birdie may be the best thing I’ve seen since her Oscar-nominated work in Almost Famous. Her delivery of a particular line was spot-on; maybe the performance that surprised me the most this year. And there are some cameos that I knew from reports, but they will be worthwhile depending on how others will see them being used.
Everything in the tone presented here is exactly why I love every aspect of Knives Out; it’s able to contain unexpected laughs while showing how to subvert any expectations with sharply clever foreshadowing that left me stunned. The technical aspect shouldn’t go unnoticed with the beautiful production design, the editing, Nathan Johnson’s grandiose score, and such stunning cinematography courtesy of longtime collaborator Steve Yedlin. As for issues I had throughout the story, you will feel the length, which is ten minutes longer than the original (139 minutes), and it can feel a tad slow around the second act before the mysteries set into motion.
Is Glass Onion better than its predecessor? Now, that’s a question I had to think really hard about even after leaving the theater. Of course, a second viewing is a must, but I can confidently say I might be since the various twists and turns genuinely caught me off guard, and that’s what a good mystery should be. In a year when I had a hard time enjoying most of Netflix’s original films, I think this is the most entertaining out of everything they’ve released. There’s a good chance it can get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. By the end, this actually made me want to see another adventure in the future with a new unconventional who would love to be a part of another one of the filmmaker’s clever whodunnits.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a worthy follow-up that managed to be awesomely thrilling. Similar to the original, Rian Johnson made this entertaining sequel its own thing with another mystery full of unpredictable surprises. Again, the ensemble’s great, but Craig as Benoit Blac and Monáe steal the show. When this hits Netflix around Christmas time, it’s going to be a definite rewatch.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will be in limited theaters starting November 23 and will be available to stream on Netflix on December 23. Runtime: 139 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content. Studio: Netflix.