Not long after we have relished The White Lotus, about an ensemble of gloriously dressed people gathering at a plush resort, comes Glass Onion: Knives Out Mystery. Writer-director Rian Johnson’s comic-mystery movie is set on a Greek island with a cast of friends gathering for an annual weekend getaway.
At the height of the covid pandemic, a clutch of friends receives a complicated box that, once deciphered, reveals itself to be an invitation to join billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) on his private estate on a Greek island for a weekend of fun and games. Bron hosts an annual get-together with this motley crew of friends—governor Claire Debella (Kathyrn Hahn), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), who works at Bron’s company, former model and entrepreneur Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), accompanied by her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) with his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). This time there are two extra invitees—Bron’s former associate Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe) and detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).
Lockdown is affecting each character in a different way. Blanc, for example, is doing video chats on his Ipad while in the bathtub with celebrity friends, including Angela Lansbury of Murder, She Wrote and basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Bron is a self-anointed disruptor, who surrounds himself with others who fit his loose and convenient definition of disruption. However, his plan to have a murder mystery weekend is disrupted when a real murder takes place. Fortunately, Blanc is on site to quickly solve the crime. Like all good murder mystery movies, the events take place in one location with enough zones and rooms to present numerous points of view.
Introduced in 2019’s Knives Out, Benoit Blanc and Craig return to the sequel with broad Southern American accent intact and a voluble disdain for all things dumb. So, when a fake murder situation turns into a real murder, it tests Benoit’s patience, but not his intellect. Among the clues he sniffs out are Bron’s penchant for incorrectly using words and a quick assessment of each guest’s motives. The term ‘glass onion’ is inspired by The Beatles song from the White Album and stands as a metaphor for things that seem complex but turn out to be transparent. In Johnson’s context: people hidden in plain sight.
Johnson lays on the one-liners and Craig joyfully belts them out. For instance, when discussing her Twitter controversy, Birdie Jay says, “Like Miles said, I'm a truth teller. Some people can't handle it”, Benoit replies, “It's a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth. Don't you think?”
Although it is bigger and more over-the-top than its delicious 2019 predecessor, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is an entertaining romp that, like its central metaphor, appears layered but is, in fact, perspicuous. And yet, things are not exactly as they seem.
Craig’s swagger as Benoit, Monáe’s careful portrayal of the cheated ex-business partner seeking retribution and Hudson’s flamboyant embrace of the blundering un-woke Birdie Jay provide the best scenes. Some of the other characters remain sketchy. While the myriad cultural references and cameos are amusing, Johnson falls short of the acerbic insight of The White Lotus or even the thrill of a mystery solved. Part one was more memorable and fun. The sequel unsubtly soapboxes political comment to remain an empty shell. But Benoit’s not done, and there’s more Knives Out crazy in the making.