A group of disparate “disruptors” gets an invitation to a murder mystery birthday party on an isolated Greek island owned by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which is now streaming worldwide on Netflix after debuting in cinemas stateside a few weeks earlier.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Glass Onion brings back Daniel Craig’s southern-fried detective Benoit Blanc from 2019’s Knives Out for a newfangled mystery that surprises and subverts expectations at just about every turn. This one doesn’t quite match the sheer elegance of the first film, but it’s an entirely fresh and fun affair.
The disruptors invited by Bron to his mysterious island residence, which is topped by a ‘glass onion’ structure and filled with ornate Czech-made glass sculptures, include his longtime friends and a newfound enemy: Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), Bron’s former associate who was recently forced out of his company and subjected to a contentious trial.
Also at Bron’s birthday party: model-actress Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson, in a surprisingly rich turn) and her put-upon assistant Peg (The Gray Man’s Jessica Henwick); men’s rights social media influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), who is really a plaything for Bron; political hopeful Claire Debella (Katheryn Hahn); and scientist-engineer Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.).
If you couldn’t guess, the events of Glass Onion quickly turn into a real-deal murder mystery, with all the suspects (along with Noah Segan’s Derol, who isn’t part of the experience) gathered on the isolated island with the knowledge that one of them is a murderer and Greek authorities unable to reach Bron’s residence until tomorrow.
It’s a good thing Craig’s world-famous detective, who Bron didn’t even invite to the party, has also shown up to peel back the layers of this mystery.
The process in which Glass Onion turns into a real-deal murder mystery is itself a clever surprise. We expect a dead body to show up, the lights to go out, and the characters to turn on each other while Blanc attempts to solve the mystery.
And while we get that to some extent, the way Johnson peels back the layers on his film to give us a greater perspective on his story calls into question the nature of the murder mystery itself. It’s a terrific and truly original mid-film twist; while these murder mysteries always seem to rely on cliches dating back to Agatha Christie, here’s one that comes as a genuine surprise.
Once the cards have been revealed, however, and the layers of Glass Onion’s true mystery peeled back, the film takes its time to resolve the story with diminishing rewards… until a smashing climax involving the Czech glass.
The Czech connection is just part of Glass Onion’s first-rate production design, which also offers a spectacular modern central residence and stunning views of the Ionian Sea and rows of olive groves (filming predominantly took place on mainland Greece). If Glass Onion wasn’t a murder mystery, it could easily pass for a Jacques Tati-style observational comedy.
The cast of Glass Onion helps keep things fun throughout the running time, with Norton’s tech bozo, Hudson’s dippy model, and (especially) Monáe’s reserved outcast real standouts. But it’s Craig’s spellbinding Southern-gentleman detective that ties it all together: it may have cost a princely sum, but Netflix finally has a premium IP of their own and ends 2022 leaving us wanting more Benoit Blanc mysteries.