Making a good sequel is not easy. That’s especially true when the original is a big hit, and if a good chunk of the supporting cast isn’t returning for the new film. Part two needs to deliver something that resembles what was popular the first time, and, ideally speaking, could also be accessible to a new audience without necessitating a viewing of the first film. The latter isn’t often achieved, though that’s also understandable for franchise-building, ensuring that even new fans will have to go back and catch up in order to truly appreciate it. But Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery does the opposite, reinventing the wheel by bringing back just one character and boldly not making him the center of attention.
Four friends – politician Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), influencer Birdie Jay, scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) and YouTuber Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) – receive complex packages from their eccentric tech billionaire friend Miles Bron (Edward Norton), revealing an invitation to a murder mystery weekend getaway on a Greek island. When they arrive, they are surprised to find two unexpected guests: Cassandra Brand (Janelle Monáe), Miles’ former partner, and famed detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), whose unexplained receipt of an invitation suggests to him that this is no game and one of Miles’ guests is really trying to kill him. Far from the public and any law enforcement entities, Blanc sets out to solve the case and figure out which person in the lavish and excessive palace Miles has built for himself wants him dead.
Craig is the only returning member of the ensemble, and this film wisely starts out by introducing all the new characters first, waiting to bring Blanc in once substantial intrigue has been established. The detective with the indiscernible accent also knows his limits, telling one client that he is not Batman, and all he can do is put together a theory based on clues and share it with the police so that they can take it from there. He also detests simple games and riddles, preferring elaborate, drawn-out investigations with many twists and turns because that’s what keeps him energized.
This case is certainly great, and while some of its developments, none of which should be spoiled for full enjoyment, are hardly earth-shattering, it’s the construction that makes it absolutely riveting. Glass Onion runs two hours and nineteen minutes and never lets up for a second, including only revenant content and still finding time for plenty of humor. Writer-director Rian Johnson knows what he’s doing, and this second chapter of this Knives Out universe suggests there is plentiful content out there for the future. Most significantly, this film requires zero knowledge of the first, making a few quick references to Blanc’s reputation for anyone who doesn’t know him. It’s a rare and brave choice that ensures that anyone who stops reading past the colon in the title can still be fully satisfied.
While Ana de Armas was considered a co-lead with Craig in the first film, this one takes longer to establish the prominence of any other character. And yet Blanc isn’t even really the lead, making this a true ensemble. Each member of the cast, including Madelyn Cline and Jessica Henwick as additional guests of the weekend, contribute to the success of this film. The dialogue is witty and often quite hilarious, and the delivery by everyone in the ensemble only enhances it. This is exactly what a sequel should be, replicating what worked so well the first time but not merely doing it over again, using it instead to create something new and thoroughly satisfying.
Following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will debut on Netflix on December 23rd.