One of the most anticipated films at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery arrives three years after the first film became a sensation with critics and audiences alike, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and earning over $300 million worldwide. It was a testament to Johnson’s unique ability to gather an all-star cast, create an engaging story while keeping us guessing – a tradition of the best whodunits which audiences are increasingly drawn to.
The sequel takes the same formula and makes things bigger and, yes, better with an all-new starry cast, more effort into exquisite world building and another complex murder mystery that keeps us glued to the screen. With Netflix’s backing (the streamer paid a record $469 million for two sequels, the first of which is Glass Onion), the higher budget perfectly pays off here – with lavish sets, meticulous costumes, fewer indoor settings, and an inventive production design that is instantly captivating, luring us into a world of privilege, betrayal and lies.
Moving away from mansions and houses, Johnson takes us on a new adventure on a Greek island, owned by one of the film’s key characters, billionaire Miles Bron (played deliciously by Edward Norton) whose private isle represents an attempt to create his own paradise, with expensive decor, rare memorabilia, and a giant onion-shaped glass structure at its center. Obsessed with his ego, power and fortunes, Miles invites a number of his ‘friends’ to visit the island and spend a weekend of fun.
Seemingly excited but also curious about the timing and Miles’ true intentions, his friends accept the invitation as we get to know more about their true intentions and layered, complicated relationship with Miles. There’s Birdie Jay, a former supermodel turned fashion designer (played by Kate Hudson, in what surely is the best she’s been in years), Lionel Toussaint, a scientist who works for Miles (played by Leslie Odom Jr.), Claire Debella, a Connecticut governor running for Senate (a superb Kathryn Hahn), Peg, Birdie’s assistant (Jessica Henwick), Duke Cody, an aspiring YouTube star and ‘men’s rights’ activist (Dave Bautista), his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) and Cassandra Brand, Miles’s ex-business partner (an excellent Janelle Monáe who delivers one of her most interesting and demanding performances in some time).
At the center of it all is our beloved detective Benoit Blanc (played perfectly once again by Daniel Craig) who thinks at first, he’s been invited by Miles to the island but soon finds out that one of his invitees actually did, at Miles’ own surprise.
Just like peeling an onion, Johnson masterfully reveals his rich set of characters while keeping us surprised throughout with twists that keep coming. No one is as they seem at first, and every single character holds a pretty solid reason for trying to hurt Miles. A major twist in the film’s fast-paced final third reveals facts that force us to re-evaluate everything we’ve seen on screen, as we question every character’s motive and true colors. Johnson never makes us feel the film is too crowded despite the many characters on display, and the film’s tone, pacing and storytelling never shows a false note, achieving what Johnson has set out to do: entertain audiences and create a thoroughly enjoyable two hours of mystery and suspects.
While the film may lack deeper messages or particular insight, save for a social commentary on privilege and fragile human relationships in an increasingly fake world obsessed with looks and appearances, the film still manages to rise above standard, typical popcorn flicks, creating a world we’d love to revisit and compelling characters we’re left wondering what their next moves might be. The reveal of the true culprit is also less obvious than Knives Out, leaving more room for surprise and excitement.
Guaranteed to thrill audiences when it hits Netflix this fall, this is a fantastic franchise that has found a large audience and will continue attracting new fans.
This review is from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Netflix will release Glass Onion in select theaters this November before streaming globally on December 23.
Photo: John Wilson/Netflix