From left, Kate Hudson, Jessica Henwick, Daniel Craig and Leslie Odom Jr. star in "Glass Onion." Photo courtesy of Netflix
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Knives Out established a formula for Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to solve a new mystery every film. Already with the sequel Glass Onion, in theaters Wednesday, writer/director Rian Johnson disrupts his own formula in clever, mysterious ways.
Tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites his friends to a murder mystery weekend on his private island in Greece. Blanc receives one of those invitations and joins the party.
Many viewers are likely to expect the murder mystery game to turn into a real murder. That's only the first time Glass Onion toys with viewer expectations.
Glass Onion keeps shifting the subject of the mystery. All of the possibilities are quite different from the murder mystery of Knives Out, but by the time the film reveals its game, it has effectively pulled off several misdirects.
Blanc is behind the mystery this time, since he is the only guest who is not part of Bron's inner circle. Seeing Blanc not in charge is another twist on the franchise.
Everyone else on Bron's island is tied to Bron in a unique and comical way. Socialite Birdie (Kate Hudson) uses Bron to cling to her former glory. Governor Claire (Kathryn Hahn) has political reasons for keeping in touch.
Vlogger Duke (Dave Bautista) is angling for an anchor gig on Bron's TV network. Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.) runs Bron's company and looks the other way when Bron flouts warnings. Andi (Janelle Monet) is Bron's former partner, whom he screwed out of her share.
There is even a sublevel of dependents. Duke's girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) is along for the ride and Birdie's assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick), depends on Birdie maintaining her status.
Johnson is constantly doling out information, even more relentlessly than in the first movie. The narrative leaves gaps to which it can flash back and fill in parts of the story.
While Johnson pulls the strings of the mystery, he also delivers an insightful satire of a privileged bunch who turn their noses up at what they consider woke culture. Bron name-drops celebrities to an absurd degree he thinks impresses his friends, while Birdie and Duke lack the common sense to avoid faux pas.
A pandemic prologue set in May 2020 locks the film in time and furthers the social observation. The degree to which each character observes COVID protocols is telling, and the film dismisses those protocols with an equally satirical touch.
Blanc's indignation at the stupidity around him is comedy gold. Bron, Birdie, Duke and Whiskey are endearingly dimwitted characters who can provoke Blanc.
If Knives Out suggested a rotating ensemble of suspects in mysteries for Blanc to solve, Glass Onion shows Johnson playing a much longer game. If the second Knives Out already goes to the next level, what's in store for the third?
Glass Onion comes to Netflix Dec. 23.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.