This may sound like an odd thing for any writer to ask, but why the hell are you reading this? If you were one of the lucky ones who went to see Knives Out knowing only that James Bond and Captain America (and Laurie Strode and Sonny Crockett) were in it, but had no clue about its plot, there's a good chance you treasured the experience of watching the New England murder mystery unfold. Glass Onion (streaming on Netflix on Dec. 23) is a Knives Out sequel (the official title is Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery), and everything on the right side of that colon could be read as code for "Don't click on any links about this, you schmuck!" But you are already here, so we may as well start peeling back the layers.
Glass Onion, written and directed by the exceedingly clever Rian Johnson, is every bit as energetic and fun as the last one. Among its many smart moves is to keep the books closed on the events of Knives Out and present this as a new and wholly self-contained adventure for the world's last gentleman sleuth, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). No one else from the old cast comes back… well, at least not as the same character. There might be an asterisk at play here, but being cheeky is the lingua franca for this exceptionally playful style of filmmaking.
Things begin when an eclectic group of people all receive a strange box. Clara (Kathryn Hahn) is the governor of Connecticut running for Senate. Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.) is a brainiac working for a weirdo disrupter/genius billionaire. Birdie (Kate Hudson) is an uncensored (and not always too bright, but very funny) fashion model/designer. Duke (Dave Bautista) is a muscle-head YouTuber. And Andi (Janelle Monáe) is someone whose connection to everyone else seems, at first, elusive.
After working their way through a set of hidden clues (thanks for the hints, Jackie Hoffman and Yo-Yo Ma), we find an invitation to a murder mystery weekend on a Greek island from Miles (Edward Norton), the Elon Musk-ish techie who is Lionel's boss and, we'll discover, secretly key to the lives of all the guests in interesting ways. Benoit Blanc gets an invite, too, but that isn't so strange, right? If you are having a murder mystery, why not invite the most famous detective?
This bunch (plus Madelyn Cline as Duke's gal pal "Whiskey" and Jessica Henwick as Birdie's assistant/warden, Peg) put on some spectacular clothes and head to the preposterously luxe setting, and soon the unexpected shenanigans we're all expecting commence. One thing I'll say about how the plot teases out is that there is a tiny stretch when you might think, "Wait, this isn't all that exciting" — and that's precisely when the rug gets pulled. It's almost as if Rian Johnson knows what he's doing here.
Daniel Craig is just through-the-roof entertaining as Blanc; his Foghorn Leghorn accent is even more welcome the second time around. (It's also fun to watch him play some sort of clue-hunter game from his tub on an iPad against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has written detective novels; Natasha Lyonne, who stars in Johnson's upcoming Peacock mystery series Poker Face; the late Stephen Sondheim, who co-wrote The Last of Sheila, a huge Knives Out influence; and the late Angela Lansbury, whose affiliation with murder stories is well known.) Everyone in the cast is terrific (Monáe and Hudson may end up duking it out during awards season in the best supporting actress category), but special notice must be given to the design of Miles' secret hideout lair, with highly individualized guest rooms and a sweeping dining area awash in reproductions of art masterpieces from throughout the centuries.
In addition to its gorgeous sets and "aha!" plot turns, Glass Onion is also notable as one of the few big-scale Hollywood productions that uses the impromptu lifestyle changes from early in the COVID-19 pandemic as something of a time capsule. This is a summer 2020 period piece, a look back at the pre-vaccine months, but far enough into the worldwide crisis that Zooms, masks, wearing sweats full time, and "How do we shake hands?" awkwardness was a part of life. (Do we miss those days? Absolutely not. Do we realize that we kinda don't talk about how upside-down everything was for a while? Perhaps!)
Neither this nor Norton's Musk-ish stand-in should worry you too much about any sort of messaging in this movie. Yes, what motivated Benoit Blanc (and at least one of the other characters) is something in the neighborhood of ethics, but this is a movie more interested in having fun than in lecturing. And the best part is that a third Knives Out film is already set up at Netflix.
Premieres: Friday, Dec. 23 on Netflix
Who's in it: Daniel Craig, Kate Hudson, Janelle Monáe, Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., David Bautista, Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline
Who's behind it: Rian Johnson (writer-director)
For fans of: The first Knives Out, murder mystery parties, Foghorn Leghorn