Sometimes you don’t want a formal meal; you just want an assortment of nibbles, a big tray of delicacies and delights that are just a bit out of the ordinary and amusing by themselves. Writer-director Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is that plate of morsels in movie form, a breezy caper that mostly sustains its novelty, even if it stumbles a bit in the last third. Mostly, the picture feels both lavish and light: This follow-up to the distinctly pleasurable 2019 Knives Out once again stars Daniel Craig as the bourbon-smooth crime-solver Benoit Blanc, only this time he’s been invited to a glamorous Greek island by arrogant media mogul Miles Bron, played by Edward Norton. Bron’s plan is to stage a murder for his circle of eccentric friends to solve. The victim? Himself.
That’s the sleight-of-hand premise Johnson begins with, anyway. By the end of Glass Onion, the story has negotiated so many twists that you may barely be able to recall how it began. Basically, this is an assembly of cartoonishly colorful characters, each of whom is in some way delightfully untrustworthy: Kate Hudson is bubble-headed model and fashion entrepreneur Birdie Jay, who’s always getting into trouble with her mindless pronouncements (like going on Oprah and comparing herself to Harriet Tubman). Kathryn Hahn is Claire Debella, a harried, disorganized straight-shooter who has somehow worked her way up to the governorship of Connecticut. Leslie Odom Jr. is Lionel Toussaint, an ambitious scientist who works for Miles but harbors suspicions about his motives. And Dave Bautista is wanna-be social-media influencer and heapin’ hunk of brawn Duke Cody, who shows up with his brainy babe of a girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) in tow.
All of these invited guests, save Blanc, are longtime pals of Bron’s, friends who in the old days used to gather at a cozy bar, now defunct, called the Glass Onion. Bron clings to the memory of those days—it’s why he’s built this lavish Greek estate, topped with a crystal dome in the shape of his favorite Allium. But even though he calls his old friends “disruptors,” people whom he admires, supposedly, for breaking the rules and shaking up the status quo, he’s the richest of them all, and the only one who’s truly a success. That’s where the most enigmatic figure in this whole charade comes in: Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe, always marvelous to watch) is Bron’s old business partner, though he not long ago kicked her out of the operation, leaving her without a penny. Yet here she is, showing up for his weekend escapade, the coolest of them all in an assortment of willowy pantsuits and ethereal goddess gowns. The rest of the group is stunned when she arrives. What is she doing there? Even Bron, who invited her, seems surprised to see her.
Meanwhile, Blanc—decked out in Southern-gent linens and dashing silk neckerchiefs—surveys this crew with his characteristically cool gaze. First he pretends to have no idea what Bron’s intent might be, stammering out suppositions in his delightful Foghorn Leghorn drawl. Then you realize he knows exactly what’s happening—and after that, the story begins to unfold in spiraling swirls that swerve forward only to double back on one another.
The pleasures of Glass Onion don’t go much beneath the surface, but at least that surface is a delectably shiny one: Bron’s mansion features a massive common room filled with delicate crystal sculptures just begging to be shattered. Hudson’s Birdie shows up with suitcases full of rich-hippie clothes, including a mesmerizing polychrome swirl of a dress that nearly hypnotizes the other guests into a stupor. And there are some great gags, including a robot recording that chastises Blanc every time he tries to sneak off for a smoke. Clean living, it seems, will be the death of us all.
There are a few downsides to Glass Onion, things it doesn’t have that its predecessor did: No Christopher Plummer as a cantankerous patriarch. No Chris Evans in a chunky sweater. And sometimes the characters’ endless clever quips run in exhausting circles. Glass Onion at times works overly hard to remind us how much fun we’re supposed to be having. It also loses some steam in the wrap-up: in building the story, Johnson introduces so many loose ends that tying them up takes some doing, and the labor shows. But following along is still enjoyable enough, right down to Benoit Blanc’s last sardonic squint. Glass Onion‘s motives are transparent—it seeks only to entertain. But then, that’s what we came for, no matter how you slice it.
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