This image was taken from the official trailer for “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” distributed by Netflix.

To say “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” has layers might be an obvious opening line, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. In his sequel to the widely popular whodunit “Knives Out,” writer-director Rian Johnson (“Looper”) crafts a mystery where half the fun is watching the characters peel back layers of an intricate puzzle before our eyes, something that is done as the opening of the film.

Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, “No Time To Die”) returns in “Glass Onion” to solve a murder mystery, this time in the form of a game constructed by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton, “Birdman”) on his private island. Also invited to play are Miles’ tight-knit group of current and former friends, consisting of Miles’ head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr., “Harriet”), liberal politician Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn, “WandaVision”), alt-right streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista, “Dune”) and washed up fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson, “Almost Famous”). The audience quickly learns from these characters, Duke’s girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline, “Outer Banks”) and Birdie’s assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick, “Underwater”), that everyone has become dependent on Miles. When ostracized group member Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe, “Hidden Figures”) also shows up, hidden tensions within the group are revealed. To say anything else would necessitate spoilers, ruining jokes or the mystery itself.

This movie looks amazing. Snappy editing that matches with quick, witty dialogue during high-energy scenes flows naturally into slow and suspenseful camera swings during weightier moments. The camerawork, music and set design work together to immerse the audience in the mystery. The attention to detail is apparent in every facet of the film’s creation, letting the audience become deeply tied to the characters and mystery of the film. Little things like the way the camera isolates Andi in an early confrontation between her and the rest of the group on their dependence on Miles become significant later on when the audience has more information.

When the film first came out, I talked to a friend who complained that Benoit Blanc’s wacky southern accent and eccentric mannerisms felt out of place in suburban Massachusetts. Any such idea is thrown out the window in this film. Blanc feels at home surrounded by a cast of high-energy and extravagant characters. Much like Blanc himself, everyone feels like an outlandish caricature made to fill a role while simultaneously feeling human at their core. Every performer does an outstanding job of showing each character’s emotional layers. Monáe especially steps into the spotlight, going toe to toe with Craig for the film’s most captivating performance. On multiple occasions, she has to switch between emotional states in a matter of seconds and does so in a thoroughly convincing fashion.

The performances also elevate the humor of the film, with Bautista, Hudson and Henwick all having excellent comedic timing. This movie is much more comedically dense than the first movie, with jokes often occurring both center stage and in the background. I often found myself laughing during scenes without major jokes. Small comedic beats like Miles forgetting Peg’s name are simultaneously funny and well-crafted moments of characterization.

As “Glass Onion” follows Blanc uncovering pieces of the mystery, the film’s writing keeps the audience from seeing the whole picture. Right when you think you understand the relationships between the characters and how everything fits together, a new piece of information is revealed that recontextualizes everything and only adds to the mystery. The best scenes are when the audience gets to rewatch previous scenes from new perspectives, completely changing their meaning. There were multiple times I thought I had figured out Birdie, Claire, Lionel and Duke’s murderous motivations, only to find that I’d stepped into the trap the film set for me and that I was seeing only half the picture. This keeping of information isn’t done cheaply, but like a good magic trick, it leaves the audience clapping at the fact that they were knowingly duped and deceived. 

A big part of the mystery is figuring out who is going to be murdered. The audience is told early that there is going to be a game in which Miles is pretend-murdered, but this is such an obvious red herring that you know something else is going to happen. In this film, Johnson holds off revealing the real murder in order to keep the audience from using whodunit tropes to figure out the mystery, much like how in “Knives Out” he pretends to reveal who the murderer is early on to stop you from constantly speculating in the back of your head. In an extended sequence about halfway through “Glass Onion,” I noticed multiple characters bump into Duke. Every logical bit of my brain knew this was significant to the mystery and because I still hadn’t fully uncovered what the mystery even was, I became even more engaged as the tension of the film built.

Most of the suspense of the film culminates with the twist. It is revealed in a flashback in which Monáe showcases her range as a performer. The moment the realization of what was happening on screen hit me, I knew this movie was a success. The twist elevates the film from a bog-standard murder mystery while keeping it grounded in the conventions of the genre. I know I am speaking in general terms here, but spoiling the reveal would tarnish your experience of the pure joy I felt while watching the puzzle fall into place.

In a movie full of murder, backstabbing and celebrities, subtlety isn’t a massive priority. If you are looking for a movie that doesn’t explicitly tell you its message, this isn’t the movie for you. The climax of the film is Blanc monologuing to the camera about the immorality and stupidity of the group, with a focus on Miles Bron. While Bron is meant to represent billionaire entrepreneurs as a whole, he is obviously a pointed attack on Elon Musk. The film rips apart the illusion that the wealthy are superior because of their intellect or skill; they abuse their power and take advantage of the talents of others to make themselves look worthy of society’s inordinate praise. This film’s message is more poignant than that of its predecessor. Instead of broadly commenting on liberal hypocrisy in the modern world, it specifically criticizes the idolization of new wealth spurred by the tech industry and how society becomes dependent on these false idols.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this film is perfect. There are weaknesses in the plot structure that muddle aspects of the mystery. The film follows a nonlinear path, jumping in time multiple times, sometimes making it hard to follow where exactly all of the characters are. The movement and location of characters are not clearly conveyed through the multiple perspectives the audience sees. However, this sequel lives up to the high standard set by the first film. “Glass Onion” is a rollercoaster of a film, exhilarating throughout the entire experience and chock-full of twists and turns.

Daily Arts Writer Zach Loveall can be reached at zloveall@umich.edu.