Review: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Rian Johnson’s sequel to Knives Out adheres to the rules of movie mystery just as faithfully as the first film did and is refreshingly focused simply on being fun and frolicsome.

TIFF/John Wilson/Netflix

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Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 2 hours 32 minutes

Stars: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Janelle Monáe

Writer/Director: Rian Johnson

Streaming on Netflix December 23

Reviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival

Utterly without subtext, completely uninterested in raising anyone’s consciousness about anything, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is refreshingly focused — in its own, lazy laser sort of way — simply on being fun and frolicsome.

Mission accomplished. And thank you, writer/director Rian Johnson, for reminding us of the pure joy movies can impart when they seek to do nothing more than entertain.

Johnson’s original Knives Out — a funny, tangled 2019 whodunit — was a respectfully hilarious homage to time-tested movie mystery conventions: A quirky yet ingenious detective (Daniel Craig) finds himself challenged to tweeze the identity of a murderer from a house full of likely suspects, each of whom comes with an undeniable motive yet also a seemingly airtight alibi.

The moment a Knives Out sequel was announced, you could almost hear the hearts of movie mystery fans skip a beat. But there was also a bit of trepidation: Knives Out was just about flawless. How could volume two be anything but a letdown?

It turns out Johnson has provided the perfect answer: In Glass Onion he does not try to out-do, out-mystify, or out-star-power the original. Nor does he attempt to flip the ground rules of the first film, tinkering with the formula that worked so well.

In fact, Glass Onion adheres to the rules of movie mystery just as faithfully as the first film did…and just as every good Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Arthur Conan Doyle screen adaptation did before that. You could drop these victims, villains — and, yes, even the detective — into any of those stories and they’d fit right in. It’s how you mix the recipe’s ingredients that counts, and Johnson is proving himself to be a master chef.

This time around, instead of in a rambling old mansion, the mystery unfolds on a spectacularly appointed Mediterranean island owned by a Steve Jobs/Elon Musk crossbreed named Miles Bron (Edward Norton, appealing as ever in his peculiar, snake-eyed kind of way). He has invited a contingent of old friends and business associates for his annual weekend getaway, only this time with a twist: He has contrived a two-day murder mystery game, with himself as the make-believe victim.

There’s Claire (comedian/actor Kathryn Hahn), the governor of Connecticut; Duke (Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista), a gun-toting Internet influencer; Birdie (Kate Hudson), a supermodel-turned-sweatpants mogul; and Lionel (Hamilton’s original Aaron Burr, Leslie Odom Jr.), a digital genius who is the only one here in Miles’ employ.

Arriving last is Andi (Hidden Figures’ Janelle Monáe), the former business partner whom Miles muscled out of their tech company. No one is even sure why she’s showed up.

No one, that is, except for master sleuth Benoit Blanc, played by Craig with that familiar drawling, deceptively cordial charm; a sly mix of Hercule Poirot and Andy of Mayberry.

Before long, of course, a real murder supplants the fake one, and it falls to Blanc — who already knows more than the suspects think — to divine the culprit.

Fans of the first film will be just as delighted with this outing. The gang of likely killers is pleasingly quirky, yet drawn broadly enough so we don’t particularly mind when one or two of them bite the dust. And, of course, there are the many individual interrogations between Blanc and the bunch; verbal chess matches as the suspects, each with something to hide, find themselves hopelessly mismatched against a congenial yet persistent master investigator.

I saw more than 30 movies at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but there’s just one I paid to see a second time. Which one was that?

It’s a mystery.

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