Rian Johnson set himself a gargantuan task when he decided to take on a sequel to the wildly successful Knives Out. After all, how could anyone capture that special kind of old-school movie magic back-to-back? It sounded virtually impossible and this critic was admittedly quite skeptical. More fool me. Johnson turns the volume up to eleven with his follow-up, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, and manages to deliver one fine rollercoaster of a film that is every bit as entertaining and refreshing as its predecessor.
One could argue that, despite its stellar script and note-perfect A-list cast, the secret of the first film’s success lay in the veritable twinkle and pure cinematic joy that suffused every frame. That special something is there in spades in the sequel too. Daniel Craig, in particular, continues to relish his time as preeminent detective, and seersucker connoisseur, Benoit Blanc. He has slightly toned down the Foghorn Leghorn of it all here but fear not, Craig dials it right back up again when the situation calls for it. And luckily for the audience, it calls for it quite a bit. But even when the actor goes all-in on the bumbling aw-shucks-ness of the persona, there’s never any doubt that Blanc is the smartest man in the room. Every time you think the situation may have gotten the better of him, the twinkle in his eye returns and you realize he’s got the puzzle solved and everything well in hand. That they manage to balance that clear sense of showmanship with his steadfast empathy and sense of justice is just another reason why this sleuth is a character for the ages.
If there’s one complaint about Glass Onion, it’s that there’s just not enough Benoit to go around. But to give him even more screen time would be to take away from the perfectly-crafted cast of supporting characters—each more entertaining than they really have any right to be. Their charm is absolutely down to the pitch-perfect casting. Edward Norton deliciously hams it up as Miles Bron, the Elon Musk-ish man at the centre of the mystery. Add to that Leslie Odom Jr. as science genius Lionel, Kate Hudson as model-turned-musician Birdie Jay, Kathryn Hahn as politician Claire, Dave Bautista as bombastic MRA Duke, Madelyn Cline as his girlfriend Whiskey, and Jesica Henwick as Birdie’s long suffering assistant Peg, and you’ve got an island full of memorably hilarious suspects. In listing the major cast, we’ve left one major actor and role unaccounted for here and that’s because she deserves to be singled out. Janelle Monáe is absolutely riveting as Miles’ ex-business partner Cassandra Brand. She nails every inch of the campy comedy but manages to also effectively ground the film’s few moments of real drama. If we had to lose some Benoit time, we’re glad it was to this ensemble of excellently portrayed oddballs.
Johnson’s script doesn’t disappoint either. Glass Onion is full of trippy twists and surprising puzzles, but he also impressively manages to give the proceedings some real tension and the character’s real stakes. You applaud and cheer each mic drop moment and gasp at each revelation. And there are moments that in a lesser director’s hands would’ve faltered or felt eye-rollingly meta or self-indulgent. But not here. From a why-complicate-it plot device to do away with on-screen COVID protocols to a boatload of perfectly-placed cameos that never take away from the story being told, Johnson connects on every swing. There are even not-so-subtle nods to the current state of world affairs and the rise of alternative facts and talking points. At one point, Blanc drops a gem of a reminder, disguised as folksy wisdom: “It’s a dangerous thing to compare speaking without through to speaking the truth”. It’s a rare moment when a room full of jaded jounalists burst out in spontaneous applause but that line hit right in our wheelhouse, while also hitting the nail on the proverbial head.
To say more about Glass Onion would be to spoil too much, and what a travesty it would be to take away from all the truly entertaining twists and turns here. But rest assured, the film delivers on every level—from costumes to set design to cinematography and beyond. It would seem almost unprecedented for Rian Johnson and the team behind the Knives Out series to deliver at this level of quality forever but for now, they are batting a thousand. And if that means there’s room for another Benoit Blanc adventure somewhere down the line, we’ll be the first in line.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery screens as part of TIFF 2022, which runs from September 8 to 18. Head here for more from the festival. It is set to hit theatres later this fall before landing on Netflix on December 23.
This review was originally published on ThatShelf.com.