Even amongst the crowded field of obligatory sequels, Glass Onion stands out, like a shimmering, whinnying unicorn. Writer-director Rian Johnson somehow replicates everything that made Knives Out a real hootenanny, while also steering that familiar story deep into left field. Once again, Johnson riffs on Agatha Christie, but he also builds a story that’s hilarious, audacious, and singular. Indeed, Glass Onion works so hard in the name of sheer entertainment, it’s impossible not to reward it with some level of respect. It may not be perfect, but when Mr. Johnson’s opus clicks, there’s some magic to its mystery tour.
For this second spectacle, Johnson fashions a brand new gallery of murder-minded scalawags and drops them into a brand new locale. Naturally, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the redoubtable detective with a Bayou drawl, serves as the primary link between the two films. Here, Blanc is invited to a remote Greek island by Miles (Edward Norton), a kooky, Elon-esque billionaire. Miles also beckons for a disparate platoon of morally bankrupt goofballs and presents them with an irresistible offer: Over the course of a weekend, they must team up and solve his murder. Presumably, the razor-sharp Blanc is meant to goose the proceedings along.
As you might guess, most of the invitees have a reason to kill Miles, but there’s more to it than that: Claire (Kathryn Hahn) is the governor of Connecticut, and is mounting a Senate campaign. Of course, Miles is her financial benefactor, but he could also be manipulating her for his own political gain. Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) is a fashion influencer whose brain always seems to be ten words behind her mouth. Her knack for controversy could be useful. That goes ditto for douchey Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), a “men’s right’s” activist who, predictably, lives at home with his mom. Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), Miles’ subordinate, begins to suspect his mega-wealthy boss has nada going on upstairs.
Of all the island’s newest inhabitants, no one brings a bigger mystery than Andi (Janelle Monáe). She’s glamorous, chilly, and beautiful. Even though Andi is a part of this clique, the others seem startled to see her. Turns out, Andi has the wildest origin of all, and the most obvious motivation to kill Miles. At the same time, her secrets might give him an even bigger reason to kill her.
Annnnd…that’s all I want to say. Part of the film’s joy lies in watching Johnson heave curveballs at the audience. His plot winds and bends as it spins along, giving no clear hint of a destination. Johnson even doubles back to retell key moments of his mystery from a different perspective.
As these convoluted shenanigans unfurl, Blanc acts as a kind of master of ceremonies. He weaves through the characters, his Old South accent massaging every detail like fresh dough. As with the first film, Blanc’s deductive abilities have to go macro: Is he here to solve the mystery, or to serve as catalyst for something even more sinister?
So far, all that probably sounds similar to the first Knives Out. And up to a point, it is. As with many sequels, a lot of the new car smell has faded. Johnson addresses that problem by adding eccentric touches throughout the film. Moments of sheer absurdity bubble up at random intervals, such as the shambling stoner (Noah Segan) who occasionally wanders into frame, as if he just got lost from a Lebowksi convention. Johnson goes out of his way to ensure Onion never takes itself seriously. The result is a film of startling humor.
That all-star cast certainly enhances the funny. Craig, whose voice lands somewhere between Atticus Finch and Colonel Sanders, finds more laughs here than all five of his angry Bond films combined. His Blanc is equally brilliant, bold, and silly. Few actors play a more effective asshole than Norton, and he turns Miles into an upper class twit with a genuine mean streak. As for the would-be murderers, Hudson nearly steals the movie as a vacuous, insensitive influencer. She makes being intellectually unengaged into a lucrative brand, and Johnson uses her character to lean hard into social satire.
In those moments, Glass Onion hits peak form. Johnson sends up the mediocrity of modern junk food celebrity, where the line between brilliant and stupid blurs into a myopic haze. This makes the movie feel refreshing, even though its basic formula is well-established. At the same time, Onion clocks in at two hours and twenty minutes, and it feels every bit that long. It’s as if Johnson was having so much fun cranking out jokes and shaping his mystery, he forgot when to bring it all in for a landing. With a sharper edit, Glass Onion could’ve been an instant classic. Instead, it settles for being a really good film, with a few bursts of bona fide greatness.
139 min. R. Netflix.