Rian Johnson’s first Knives Out movie was a sharp-witted retooling of the old Agatha Christie template that stuck an elegant dagger into the idle snobbery of America’s moneyed types. Fittingly for these wildly unequal times, his sun-soaked, lockdown-set follow-up is more – lots more – of the same.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (the clunky title makes sense in context) sacrifices a little suspense in exchange for sharper satirical jabs and bigger laughs. Happily, it also plays to its biggest strength: Daniel Craig’s sleuth-for-hire Benoit Blanc, whose arch manners are a great showcase for the ex-007’s breezier side. He offers us our polite but unimpressible entrée to its ensemble of largely terrible one-percenters.
Thin-skinned tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton, channelling the ubiquituous Elon Musk) has assembled them on his private Greek island for a self-aggrandising murder-mystery game. He’s had it specially created by ‘Gone Girl’ writer Gillian Flynn, one of the movie’s many entertaining namechecks and cameos (listen out, too, for ‘Jeremy Renner’s small-batch hot sauce’ and ‘Jared Leto’s hard kombucha’).
Blanc, who has been spending lockdown depressed at the lack of good cases, has been invited by a mysterious third party. Joining him on the guest list is a broadly drawn but juicily played ensemble. The two straight shooters in attendance are Bron’s loyal deputy Lionel (One Night in Miami’s Leslie Odom Jr) and the ex-business partner he once stiffed, The Social Network-style. Played by a stewing Janelle Monáe, she’s the early favourite for chief suspect in whatever foul play is about to unfold.
Benoit Blanc’s arch manners are a great showcase for the ex-007’s breezier side
Hitting the broader notes are Kathryn Hahn’s grasping politician, Dave Bautista’s men’s right activist, and Kate Hudson’s ditzy model-turned-designer, Birdie Jay. ‘It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought with speaking the truth,’ Blanc cautions the vapid Birdie. ‘Are you calling me dangerous?’ she gushes.
Like The Last of Sheila, the underseen 1973 thriller to which Johnson’s murder-mystery tips its Panama, the nutty characters and their bitchy, back-stabby exchanges are as much of the fun as the flashback-driven twists and turns. Especially in a third-act denouement that feels like a bit of a cheat after all the intricacies that come before it – the narrative equivalent of using a chainsaw to escape a maze.
Then again, for all Johnson’s finesse as a screenwriter, subtlety isn’t really what Knives Out is about. It’s a winning combo of satire and sleuthing – Succession with police tape – and a perfect slice of high-calorie escapism. Roll on number three.
In UK cinemas Nov 23. Streaming on Netflix worldwide Dec 23.