Like many people during the pandemic lockdowns, I found myself missing the communal movie theater experience. With the right film, there are few things more enjoyable than reacting in real time with strangers in the dark to a big screen romp.
Few movies have come out since theaters reopened that made me feel that way again — Everything Everywhere All at Once immediately springs to mind — which is maybe why I felt like I was floating on a cloud when I left a November screening of Glass Onion, the sequel to 2019’s Knives Out.
The Daniel Craig–led murder mystery was an absolute riot. The audience in my crowded theater laughed hysterically at writer-director Rian Johnson’s joke-packed script, which was full of twists, turns, time jumps, surprise cameos, and red herrings. By the time it was all over, I felt like I’d emerged from a carnival.
And then, just as quickly as it was released, Glass Onion was yanked from theaters. It had been shown on roughly only 600 screens nationwide for just a week. Audiences had crammed in to see it while they could, but despite the demand, Netflix stuck to its strategy of releasing the movie in theaters briefly so as to generate buzz and word of mouth.
I suppose that makes sense for Netflix’s goal of driving people to subscribe to the platform (even if it potentially missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars in box office sales). But it is disappointing because Glass Onion is the kind of joyful movie-watching experience best relished with a group. When it arrives on Netflix on Dec. 23, my advice is to gather as many friends and family as you can, put your phones in a box, dim the lights, and enjoy the ride.
It’s hard not to when the cast is so plainly having a ball. Craig returns as detective Benoit Blanc, who receives an invitation to attend a weekend murder mystery party on the private island of tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton doing his best Elon Musk impersonation). Bron’s friends and guests include Connecticut Gov. Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), funky scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), men’s rights Twitch streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), a supermodel turned athleisure designer recently canceled after a particularly bad tweet. Also along for the ride is Cassandra "Andi" Brand (Janelle Monáe), Bron’s spurned former business partner, who has an axe to grind with just about everyone.
Ensemble movies with big-name stars tend to be a blast because we get to imagine the interaction between them behind the scenes. But murder mysteries, in particular, are so enjoyable because they often feel like plays where the actors are encouraged to ramp up the acting so the people in the back of the theater can see. Suspicious stares! Menacing scowls! Dramatic fainting! I eat it all up.
When the movie opens, it’s the middle of 2020’s COVID lockdowns and Bron’s friends are just as excited by the chance to gather again as I was to be in a theater. But don’t expect Glass Onion to follow the same structure as Knives Out, which opened with a death that was investigated throughout the rest of the film. Here, more than half the film is spent getting to know the characters as we await a seemingly inevitable murder, but instead we get something entirely different. Not all the characters are who they appear to be, which forces us to constantly question who might be a villain and who might end up dead.
That’s not the only way in which this sequel differs from the original. Knives Out was cold and gray in both its autumnal Massachusetts setting and semi-serious tone, though it was still a thoroughly enjoyable movie. (How could it not be, with Chris Evans wearing that cable-knit sweater?) Glass Onion, by contrast, feels joyful and vibrant, even if we know we’re going to see a murder or two. The sunny Greek island setting helps, but mostly it’s the bubbly cast and Johnson’s lively and genuinely surprising script. Barely a minute goes by without a joke, and they all somehow land — even one about a Jeremy Renner brand of hot sauce, which will only truly make sense to the terminally online. There’s a cameo from one sports star, which I won’t spoil, but it was as surprising as it was hilarious.
The movie is, dare I say, camp. That’s famously a tough word to define, but I’d argue that any film where Craig wears a striped nautical ensemble and yellow neckerchief more than meets the definition.
After portraying James Bond for 15 years in five movies, a role he eventually found physically and creatively exhausting, it seems likely that Craig only felt compelled to play yet another recurring protagonist because this role is so playful. (Bautista, who also starred with Craig in the 2015 Bond film Spectre, has said working with the star in both films was like night and day. "He didn't seem like the happiest person on Bond, but on Glass Onion, it was the complete opposite,” Bautista told Entertainment Weekly. “He was just so much fun, and he was always smiling and happy and interacted a lot more.”)
Like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Blanc is an effete and preening detective who is comfortable with his genius, doesn’t suffer fools, and longs for the next riddle to solve. Craig’s attempt at a Southern accent — described by Evans’s character in the first movie as a “Kentucky-fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl” — remains ridiculous, but that’s sort of the point. In one scene, Blanc buzzes with such joy at a dinner party where his genius is so consuming that the other characters almost slide off their chairs in shock (admittedly, same).
The rest of the cast are at their peak too, especially Monáe, who gives a multilayered performance that bubbles into magnificent rage, and Hudson, who I don’t think has been this good in a role since Almost Famous in 2000. As Birdie Jay, she appears hopelessly clueless but also so delightfully warm that you understand instantly why the others want to hang around her. I genuinely hope that they’re both in the mix for Best Supporting Actress come Oscar season.
Netflix already has the rights to make a third Knives Out (after paying an astonishing $450 million last year for films two and three), and although production hasn’t started yet, I’m already mentally lining up for tickets. I hope this becomes Netflix’s equivalent of HBO’s The White Lotus, with each installment bringing us a new cast in a glamorous location.
I don’t want to spoil anything, because part of the joy of these movies is going in as clueless as possible, but I will say there is one central discussion in the film about the “Mona Lisa,” which billionaire Bron has been temporarily loaned by the French government for a mind-boggling sum because of the Louvre’s pandemic-era closure.
The host tells his stunned guests how Da Vinci was able to create the masterpiece using pioneering brushstrokes and technique. In awe of the painter’s genius and mastery, Bron says he longs to be remembered in the same way that people talk about great art.
But Glass Onion is a perfect reminder that great art need not be serious. Sometimes, it’s just about having fun. If you look closely, even the “Mona Lisa” is smiling just a little. ●