Cozy whodunit shows and movies are like a warm blanket on a winter’s night for me. A savvy detective figuring out heinous crimes in the most pleasant way possible just fills me with happiness. As such, Rian Johnson’s outstanding 2019 film Knives Out, with its rich family squabbles, social commentary, and twisty doughnut hole in a doughnut’s hole mystery really hit the spot. I’ve watched it many times since release. It’s as comfortable as Chris Evans’ sweaters. What’s this? More whodunits featuring Southern gentleman detective extraordinaire Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig)? Hoorah! But while Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery offers a lot of the same scrumptious twists and class warfare satire as the first, Johnson takes the zaniness up so high it very nearly toppled the whole affair.
I do applaud Johnson for not doing just the exact type of thing again. Knives Out had that lovely, chilly east coast autumn vibe. The old-money mahogany house at its center was the perfect central locale. The mystery was heightened and fantastical to a point, but it felt pretty grounded overall. Glass Onion goes completely another direction. The action takes place mainly on a tech billionaire’s lavish private Greek Isle. His gaudy mansion would make Francisco Scaramanga think it was too much. The suspects and victims of this world aren’t just wealthy 1%-ers, they’re ridiculous caricatures of the vapid, out-of-touch celebrity billionaires of the world.
I won’t spoil any of the movie’s many twists and revelations, so don’t worry. The basic set-up finds bored detective Blanc among a group of influential people invited to the private island of notorious tech tycoon Miles Bron (Edward Norton). These included Governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn) who’s in the middle of a bid for Senate; Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom, Jr.), the head scientist at Bron’s company; Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), a vapid fashion icon whose assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) has to keep her from her phone; Men’s Rights YouTuber Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) there with his bikini-clad girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline); and Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), Bron’s company co-founder whom he kicked to the curb.
This eclectic group of people have all assembled to play Bron’s elaborate murder mystery weekend where he himself is the victim. But, as you probably expect from the kind of movie it is, each of the guests has a reason to want Bron out of the way. It’s not as simple as that, naturally. When the movie’s plot really kicks in, Glass Onion becomes just as—excuse the pun—layered as Knives Out, with double-bluffs and misdirection aplenty. This is great, and Craig once again delivers uncovering-the-clues monologues like a Poirot or Jessica Fletcher.
The problem, for me, is that the set-up felt too much like a farce. Bron’s comical island and even what his company does bordered on science fiction. Each of the attendees is less a character and more a reflection of Johnson’s attitude toward dumb rich people. And look, I agree with him! New-money buffoons trying to act like they’re artists or dreamers or whatever are absolutely worthy of ridicule. They truly are cartoonish in real life. For whatever reason in the film, it just felt forced and the social commentary even more on the nose than in Knives Out.
Ultimately, I think Johnson made exactly the movie he wanted to, heightening the conceit he laid out in the first movie, and going in a completely new direction. This is much more an out-and-out comedy, especially for the first 45 minutes or so. The added zaniness and bombast that Knives Out used sparingly is much more at the forefront here. The performances, especially Hudson’s, are absolutely hysterical, and I laughed plenty. I just think for me, there’s very little of the cozy whodunit here, much more Hollywood.
Glass Onion is absolutely worth watching, and it’s a hell of an enjoyable time at the movies. Rian Johnson doing his thing, clearly on his own terms, with full backing from Netflix, is something all filmmakers should get to do. But if you hope for more of Knives Out‘s subtler, homier take on the genre, as I did, you’ll be left without your comfortable sweater.
Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.