(Bloomberg) -- Knives Out is a hard act to follow. The 2019 murder mystery set in a wealthy New England suburb was a critical and commercial success, garnering a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and $311 million in box office sales on a $40 million budget. Based on those outsized returns, Netflix Inc. paid a reported $450 million for the rights to two sequels to the film. Then it was up to director Rian Johnson to recreate his early success.
There’s no sophomore slump here. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a crowd-pleasing delight of a whodunit, with a few moments of genuine introspection amid some nearly too-clever dialogue. The only returning character from the first Knives Out is gentlemen detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who sports a fabulous wardrobe and an incongruous Southern accent. (Goodbye, Mr. Bond.)
The action kicks off when Blanc is invited to a private Greek island owned by billionaire tech entrepreneur Miles Bron (Edward Norton, doing his best Elon Musk) for a murder mystery party. The party’s mystery is written by Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn, because why would the ultrarich not hire out the best to do their work for them?
Joining Blanc and Bron on the island are his ex-business partner Cassandra “Andi” Brand (a scene-stealing Janelle Monáe), NPR tote bag-carrying Connecticut Governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), scientist and conflicted Bron employee Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), model and fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), and her long-suffering assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick). Rounding out the group are the manosphere vlogger Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) who still lives with his mom, and his younger, influencer girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline).
There’s no reason for all these people to get along, and they don’t. Relations are frostiest with Andi, who has had big problems with Bron since he booted her out of the company they co-founded. From the moments we see her holding onto Bron’s yacht for dear life and slinking around his pool with a drink in hand, it’s obvious she has an agenda.
Johnson, the director, again sharpens his knives the most for the wealthy, making sure not to equate success with smarts or virtue. Bron is mythologized as a genius-founder who did it all himself, but he’s standing on the hard work of others. His employee Toussaint doesn’t believe in his boss’s highly profitable “green tech,” but he knows where his bread is buttered. Bron is an environmentalist, but he ships his sexy luxury sports convertible everywhere with him, including onto islands that don’t allow vehicles. It’s not a flattering portrait of a tech billionaire, and his paradise of a hideaway doesn’t end up being paradise for anyone: The murder mystery party soon turns into a straight-up murder mystery. Luckily, the world’s greatest detective is already there.
More details would be classified as spoilers, but there is a death to investigate and (pace, Chekhov) a loaded gun in Act 1 does indeed go off.
Glass Onion also attempts to captures life during 2020’s high-Covid era. Craig’s Blanc is stuck at home with his partner, bored and restless with Zoom quizzes before he gets brought into the Bron inner circle in Greece. Characters bump elbows to say hello instead of embracing, Birdie Jay shows up with one of those pointless, little mesh face masks that got Lana del Rey in trouble, and calls a massive house party her “pod.”
The plot zips along, complemented by a host of cameos, including Angela Lansbury in her last on-screen role. Some of the surprises in the mystery feel a little contrived—including an amusing gag about hot sauce doubling for blood— but it’s so much fun that who cares about a little thing like plausibility?
That may be what makes it so pleasurable to watch: In reality, Elon Musk types appear to live in a world where their actions are rarely met with consequences. Watching these people in Glass Onion finally get their comeuppance is, in the end, escapism at its best.
Glass Onion will be in theaters for only one week starting Nov. 23 and will begin streaming on Netflix globally on Dec. 23.
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