As we enter the homestretch of 2022, the never-ending debate over good sequels vs. bad sequels vs. Hollywood-has-no-creativity gets a new entry – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. I don’t know how people from that third group keep getting into this debate, but we really need to change the locks. With those cranks out of the way, let’s figure out if Glass Onion is good, bad, or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The basic trick to making a good sequel is the same trick for making all good movies. Write a good story, dummy. It doesn’t matter if the sequel is a continuation of a previous film or a standalone franchise entry. Audiences want to revisit universes and characters that they enjoyed and are just looking for a good story to take them back to again. In order to finish making a good sequel, the rest of the trick is a balancing act. Give the audience just enough of what made the previous film(s) so memorable, but not so much that the audience wants Ace Ventura to die a horrible death.
Glass Onion has one thing in common with Knives Out – master detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Okay, two things; the other being that Glass Onion is subtitled as A Knives Out Mystery. However, Glass Onion never so much as whispers about Blanc’s previous Knives Out case. The clever part of this is writer/director Rian Johnson wrote another mystery filled with backstabbing or the potential for backstabbing. If that is going to be the way of every Knives Out mystery, count me in.
This time, Blanc finds himself invited to an island owned by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Bron is hosting a group of long-time friends for the weekend to solve an elaborate murder mystery game. Upon the group’s arrival at the island, Bron is surprised and confused to meet Blanc among the group since Bron didn’t actually invite Blanc. Also confused, Blanc explains that he received an invite to the island and shows it as proof. Bron surmises that one of the guests regifted their invitation to Blanc. Later, one of these guests ends up dead and now there are two mysteries to solve. Who killed the friend and who wanted Blanc there in the first place? And why? Like the Thrombey family in Knives Out, everyone on the island wants something from Bron, giving us and Blanc plenty of suspects.
The group is composed of Claire (Kathryn Hahn), Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), Birdie (Kate Hudson), Peg (Jessica Henwick), Duke (Dave Bautista), Whisky (Madelyn Cline), and Cassandra (Janelle Monae). In addition to their relationships with Bron, these people all have histories and relationships with one or more of the rest of the group. As Blanc starts to peel back the layers and more is revealed about the cast of characters, we are drawn further and further into the mystery, trying to deduce who the killer is before Blanc can enlighten us. Johnson weaves such a well-crafted story that, at least one point during the movie, we believe each character is either the murderer, the one who summoned Blanc, or both.
By this point in the film, Johnson has succeeded with the basic trick of writing a good story and is off and running with the balancing act. One of the best aspects of Knives Out was the playful, yet serious tone. That same tone is present in Glass Onion, but with the ratio pushed a little more towards the playful side. Much of this has to do with Craig clearly enjoying portraying a character without a license to kill, but also because the film doesn’t start with cops investigating a suicide. Rather, it starts with a group of friends on a zoom call, a la 2020, playing Among Us online. What could be more playful than that?
Also carried over are the structure and excellent flow of the first film. The film begins linearly, introducing us to the various characters, setting up the situation until we get to the murder, then twisting and turning us back through previous events for discovery, while continuing to move us forward toward the answer to the mysteries. Wisely, Johnson resists reusing jokes, specific motivations, and signature character traits (besides Blanc’s), all of which would have cheapened the film.
Most importantly, the tone and flow don’t work without good performances. Every actor, down to the myriad cameos peppered throughout, gives their all to ensure Glass Onion is every bit as enjoyable as its predecessor. Standing out are Monae and Norton, especially when they are together. Cassandra’s loathing of Bron is as palpable as Bron’s smarm, both actors feeding off each other in ways that directors only dream of. And of course, Craig is as charming as ever, playing the “Kentucky-fried” detective to perfection to both disarm and outwit his adversaries with his Southern affectations.
It was very refreshing to see a sequel live up to its highly regarded brethren. By the end of the film, all of the loose ends are tied up, the mystery is solved, and we aren’t left hanging to wait for another film to continue the story. The best part is that the film is so enjoyable that the sadness we felt at Craig hanging up his Bond tuxedo has been replaced by elation at him donning a Southern accent.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but do ask when the next sequel is coming.