“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” Review

By Sammy Bovitz

Author’s note: Don’t worry, there aren’t any major plot spoilers here. Still, if you want to go completely blind, wait until you’ve finished the film.

The whodunit is a genre defined by being unpredictable. An audience’s enjoyment of a given catch-the-killer escapade hinges on just one question: Do we truly know what is going to happen next? If that answer is no, then you’ve got the most important ingredient to a whodunit’s success. 

In 2019’s Knives Out, writer-director Rian Johnson created an unpredictable whodunit like no one ever had before. By flipping the entire film on its head within the first 30 minutes, the movie evolves from a simple who-killed-him scenario into something wholly unique and entertaining. In the wake of a $470 million dollar deal with Netflix for two mysterious sequels, Johnson has teamed up with star Daniel Craig once more to do it all again, but bigger. Still, Glass Onion strikes an entirely different note than the original, and stands as a great film in its own right. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, despite its subtitle, opens on a completely different note than the original film. It shares lots of stylistic aspects with its predecessor, remaining a playground for slick costume design and engaging cinematography. Regardless, you can instantly tell that the pacing is going to be a bit different. Without getting into specifics, the movie’s first actual murder occurs much later than the rapid death in the original. If Knives Out was a compact story about old money, Glass Onion delivers a complex takedown of new money. Instead of a rich author throwing a quiet soireé for his birthday at his townhouse, it’s a rich tech executive inviting a bunch of friends to his private island just because it would be fun. It maintains the series’ core themes and style, while changing the story to deliver something fresh within that context. 

Speaking of story, Rian Johnson’s script ventures out onto new ground while recognizing what audiences loved about the first film. Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) is delightfully campy with his oddball mannerisms and exaggerated Southern drawl, so the new writing leans full-throttle into said ridiculousness. While Janelle Monáe’s mysterious new character brings a completely new fire, I feel that she functionally operates as a more assertive and capable version of Knives Out’s Marta (Ana De Armas) while still fitting Marta’s archetype of a relatably overwhelmed protagonist. The injections of social commentary are also smarter and more subtle than before. That said, Glass Onion falls into a lot of similar scripting traps. Having this many talented actors means some are going to get shafted; this time, both Leslie Odom Jr. and Kathryn Hahn’s characters show promise but aren’t given nearly enough to do in the story’s climax. It feels like both of their characters could have been removed from the story and nothing would change. The film’s ending is quite climactic, but just like with the original, I would have loved to see a little bit on the wider and further-reaching consequences of Blanc’s big reveal instead of ending only mere moments after it.

On the technical side, I have no notes. I’m no directing expert, but as a simple viewer, this movie was fantastic to look at for practically its entire duration. Lighting is vibrant and adds to the mega-rich setting, sets are colorful and sharp, and the editing is silky-smooth. Certain moments with flashing lights and quick zooms or camera movements were a bit jarring, but didn’t do nearly enough to overshadow how much Glass Onion gets right. The movie’s private island requires a few CGI-assisted shots, but thankfully, these shots get the job done and end quickly.

Janelle Monáe stands out in her role opposite Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).

As for the cast, Rian Johnson assembled a brilliant crew to support Craig and Monáe. Edward Norton is wonderful as the cocky, Musk-esque billionaire in charge. I was afraid that Dave Bautista’s macho character was just going to turn him into a slightly more realistic Drax, but Johnson’s script thankfully gives him room to bring a completely new, darker side that I didn’t expect. Finally, the movie’s biggest surprise had to be Madelyn Cline, who shines as Bautista’s girlfriend during the chaotic second half.

It’s hard to talk about this movie’s ending without spoilers, but it’s safe to say that Glass Onion’s buildup ultimately pays off in an absolutely bonkers finale. The solution to the puzzle is both stupefyingly obvious and delightfully unpredictable, while still managing to mock every single character at once in a signature Rian Johnson skewering. The more complicated story might make the compact Knives Out a more satisfying rewatch, but on a first watch, Glass Onion offers more edge-of-your-seat moments than any mystery movie I’ve seen. 

If Knives Out wanted to see the predictable mystery movie dead, Glass Onion wants to watch it burn. It throws away convention and expectation and delivers a fresh and overwhelming experience for the audience. To say this movie twists and turns is one thing, but to have that chaos be so tightly controlled and refined is something else entirely. 

Glass Onion turned Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig’s little whodunit movie into a full-on franchise, and I was very uncertain as to what that would mean for the sequels’ quality. It’s fantastic, then, that this new film shares Knives Out’s clever and quirky DNA and continues to throw out all conventions while maintaining a high quality. If every Benoit Blanc mystery is as high-quality as Glass Onion, I would be thrilled to see Daniel Craig and his Southern drawl stumble into another murder many more times in the future.