Benoit Blanc is back. Daniel Craig returns as the sleuth with the Southern drawl in “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” the sequel to the hit 2019 mystery film.
Following the tradition popularized by Agatha Christie, series creator Rian Johnson has taken an anthological approach; keeping Blanc, but refreshing each film with a new, mysterious cast of characters.
“Glass Onion” excels in that regard, taking the Blanc from “Knives Out” and putting him in an entirely new setting with an equally fresh conundrum. That being said, the film retains the special tone the 2019 film was able to craft, balancing comedy and mystery with style.
Johnson and co. succeed in delivering again with a timely premise, this time it is even more topical than “Knives Out.” In fact, this film really could not have been released at a better time (albeit in limited fashion; it will have a wider release on Netflix on Dec. 23).
“Glass Onion,” like its predecessor, is structured to perfection. Johnson has clearly studied the mystery ensemble film and perfected it. He knows how to twist, turn and change focus on a dime, all whilst progressing towards a satisfying conclusion. He also does a brilliant job balancing the nine characters. Of course, some are more developed than others, but by utilizing their respective archetypes, subverting them and adding more depth to some, Johnson creates a dynamic mystery yet again.
Johnson also succeeds in his direction. Along with cinematographer Steve Yedlin, they create a distinctive look that not only artistically translates the story to the screen, but adds comedic value through humorous framing. Additionally, even amidst scenes with almost a dozen subjects, Yedlin and Johnson make the most of their shots. Instead of utilizing repetitive character cuts, they often deal in the wide, maximizing the number of characters on screen at a given time. This allows the viewer to see the suspects’ every reaction, only adding to the mystery. This style simultaneously sustains the rhythm, adds tension and simply enhances the artistry of what is seen on screen.
Though it is an unfair question, it does bear asking – is “Glass Onion” better than “Knives Out”?
It is a brilliant film, but the answer is no for a few reasons.
One, the supporting performances are not as strong. Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas stole the show in “Knives Out” and Craig does again in “Glass Onion.” The film has another breakout performer that will remain nameless for keeping this review spoiler-free, but after watching the film, that actor will be very clear. Unfortunately, while “Knives Out” had fantastic performances from supporting actors like Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette, this was not the case in “Glass Onion.” While the ensemble was fantastic, Johnson gave the actors less individual moments to showcase their talent and charisma. Additionally, their performances did venture into the territory of inauthenticity at times (which is in part due to the heightened premise), which separates them from the prior film’s more grounded supporting cast. The supporting characters also had less of an arc than those in the previous film, making them seem not as important in comparison.
That introduces the second point that separates the two films, the ending of “Glass Onion” is less satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, the film ends in a very satisfying way. However, due to the lack of complete character arcs and a more uncertain ending, the ending in “Knive’s Out” is just more satisfying and conclusive.
Additionally, while the cinematography and direction are definitely deserving of praise, the film appears to use more greenscreen sets than the distinctly practical elements of its predecessor. Part of the charm of “Knives Out” is the fact it takes place in an ornate, heavily decorated and very clearly real mansion. “Glass Onion” has a setting of similarly epic proportions, but in certain scenes is clearly only partially practical. While this may only be a problem for some, the lack of practicality does make the viewer disconnect from the film.
Ultimately however, these differences neither amount to significantly much, nor do they hurt the viewer’s enjoyment of the film.
In the end, the film is another brilliant whodunnit that tells a timely thematic story with great style and structure, delivering a true spectacle to the screen. With all of the layers of “Glass Onion,” the film earns a strong recommendation.