In Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” sequel, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is back with his foppish threads and Southern drawl to join the billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) for a murder mystery weekend on a private island, where an actual murder soon takes place.
Bron, an obnoxious hybrid of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Elizabeth Holmes, welcomes his guests into a flashy world of wealth, where he casually shows off Paul McCartney’s guitar and the Mona Lisa, has a robot carry off their luggage and even seemingly has his own Covid-19 vaccine (the film takes place early in the pandemic).
The film, like the original, uses many clichés of the genre: a clandestine invitation, a group of people stuck in a remote location, an eccentric “genius,” priceless treasures, a suspicious character from the past, a secret twin, a faked death. But the fun of “Glass Onion” is that it takes these tropes to build what appears to be an elaborate murder scheme, only to reveal that the crime was much more straightforward than it seemed.
“I keep returning in my mind to the glass onion,” Blanc says in the final act, “something that seems densely layered, mysterious and inscrutable. But in fact, the center is in plain sight.” Bron, he reveals, is the murderer, but he’s no criminal mastermind; he’s stupid, and, to Blanc’s disgust, even unoriginal when it comes to plotting his friends’ deaths.
According to the murder mystery formula, when the detective solves the case, it’s over; our contract with this fictional world ends when we get the bad guy. “Glass Onion” also subverts that expectation through its structure: At exactly halfway through the movie, Blanc has figured it out, but before he explains everything, “Glass Onion” cuts to the past. Once Blanc’s real reason for joining Bron’s get-together is clear, the film moves through the plot again to show us the same characters and events from a new perspective.