Three years ago, writer/director Rian Johnson wowed audiences with an unexpected, compelling and hilarious take on the classic Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery genre.
His Knives Out brought viewers into the world of a rural New England town filled with intrigue, suspicion and family tension while debuting an eccentric Southern detective on par with Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes in Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc.
The success of Knives Out – which made over $300 million on a $40 million budget – prompted Netflix to spend $469 million to purchase the rights to two additional installments in what would become a franchise centered around Blanc’s exploits.
The first spiritual sequel opened this past weekend with Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery debuting on the streaming service after a limited one-week theatrical run over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The film sees Blanc whisked into a world of high society and social media stars brought together by a tech billionaire for a murder mystery game that proves deadly and sets Blanc off to find a genuine killer on a remote Greek island.
What truly stands out about Glass Onion are the film’s illustrious and perfectly cast stars, most notably the returning Craig. His Blanc, fully formed in a second installment, is even more dry in his humor and Craig revels in the ability to acutely play the line between investigator and comedian.
A sequence early in the film that reveals what Blanc has been up to during quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic is especially sidesplitting in its humor and Johnson deftly sidesteps the pandemic while also addressing directly issues that would arise in an elite world given the circumstances.
Glass Onion wouldn’t work as well as it does on Craig’s performance alone.
Johnson meticulously assembles an ensemble to surround Blanc that ramps up the humorous elements from the original while maintaining quality in the acting as well.
Even by the standards of murder mystery where viewers must question the motivations of everyone but the detective, Janelle Monae has an arduous task in front of her being especially mysterious and vague and the accolades she’s been receiving as a possible best supporting actress contender are certainly valid.
The showiest work in the film comes from Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista, who are both truly going for it as over-the-top versions of characters viewers might associate them with from other work, but the smartness of Johnson’s screenplay and guided hand in direction keeps the comedy fresh and not too on the nose.
Edward Norton feels lighter and as if he’s having more fun with a role in some time as the tech billionaire at the center of the mystery, while Kathryn Hahn comes alive with small repartee that helps keep Johnson’s masterful screenplay at the forefront.
Because so much of the success of the first film came from a shared viewing experience in theaters, it’s hard not to be somewhat disappointed by first time at home screening of Glass Onion where the wry, smart comedy of Johnson’s screenplay perfectly acted by perhaps the year’s ensemble cast doesn’t land in the same way without others around to share the moment.
This isn’t to say that Glass Onion isn’t a terrific blockbuster film. Johnson has recaptured the magic of Knives Out and brought it back to life in a new environment that will give audiences something fresh to mull over and find all the hidden easter eggs and clues as the layers unravel.
There’s been some buzz that Glass Onion would make waves and enter the Academy Awards’ best picture race, though that seems to be overblown somewhat simply due to it being Netflix’s best chance rather than being worthy of a nomination.
The lack of a true theatrical experience really dulls the shine on Johnson’s film and keeps it from being on par with the original Knives Out, but regardless, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is certainly an entertaining at home experience that will pull cinephiles out of their seats during family gatherings this holiday season.