In an era where cinemas are ruled by superheroes and blockbusters, the fact that writer/director Rian Johnson's enjoyably cunning “Knives Out” brought the all-star murder mystery back in vogue was sort of a minor miracle.
Well, by jove, Johnson’s done it again with his whodunit sequel “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (★★★ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters now, streaming on Netflix Dec. 23). It’s a bigger, showier follow-up, from the A-list cast to the twistier twists, even if it doesn’t have the same witty punch as the original. The script is taut and surprising, though, and Daniel Craig's return as super-sleuth Benoit Blanc is a Southern-fried godsend.
Tech billionaire Miles Bron (a smarmy Edward Norton) gets his longtime pals together for an annual reunion, and this year is special because he’s arranged for them to come to his palatial villa on a gorgeous private Greek island for a murder mystery getaway.
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The guest list includes estranged ex-business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe); stylish scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.); ethically shady Connecticut governor/senatorial candidate Claire (Kathryn Hahn); over-the-top YouTube influencer Duke (Dave Bautista) and his young girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline); and flighty fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) with her plus-one, Peg (Jessica Henwick), the embattled assistant who constantly cleans up her politically incorrect messes.
But someone’s also invited Blanc – that’s news to Miles but the master detective has become a bit of a thing since the events of the first movie, so the rich guy is all about having him there and showing off his ridiculously audacious pad. The Glass Onion is where Miles does all his business, an ornate man cave with breakable treasures and priceless artifacts. It’s also where someone winds up dead, sending the guests scrambling and Blanc off to catch a killer.
“Glass Onion” is another confident effort of original filmmaking from Johnson, who’s put his signature stamp on teen noir (“Brick”) and time travel (“Looper”), and he has a pronounced fondness for the murder mystery. The director has hatched an intricate narrative where there’s always something neat to see – the puzzle boxes Miles sends his friends are a sight to behold – and the usual suspects aren’t the same old mystery archetypes. (An online troll factored into his original 2019 mystery jam, and there are even more modern examples in “Glass Onion,” including Norton’s Elon Musk-y personality.)
The thing is, that first “Knives Out” just cuts differently. Evil Chris Evans in a cable-knit sweater helped, obviously, yet it was such a fresh breath of air in so many ways. The characters meshed and matched better, and there was an intimate coziness to the whole thing. The sequel starts like gangbusters, and has a couple of outstanding reveals that leave you questioning what’s actually happening, however it loses steam heading into the climactic third act.
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Craig’s drawling presence again does wonders – he might have been one of many James Bond but there’s only one dude who can play Benoit Blanc. While Miles’ gang is known as a bunch of “disruptors,” the ace detective is the real bull in the china shop, keeping everyone on their toes with his uncanny problem-solving prowess. Audiences find out a little more about his home life and his interests (not a big fan of “Clue” apparently), though most of his enigmatic layers are still intact, and Craig has fantastic chemistry with Monae as he did with Ana de Armas in the original film. (It’s best not to say much about Monae’s role – for reasons – but in her own way, she steals the movie.)
As long as Blanc is on the case, Johnson’s “Knives” will always be sharp.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Glass Onion' review: Daniel Craig back in Netflix 'Knives Out' sequel