Now that actor Daniel Craig has served his time as 007, he is free to focus on making a series of “Knives Out” movies featuring his Southern detective, Benoit Blanc. The second film in what will hopefully become a franchise on par with the best of Agatha Christie, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” continues writer-director Rian Johnson’s obsession with cinematic puzzle boxes. It’s a fixation that goes back to his 2005 breakthrough film, “Brick.”
Johnson likes to turn familiar things inside out and rebuild them in his own image. It’s a feat he used to offend the ouroboros of Star Wars fandom with 2017′s “The Last Jedi.” However, his mischief works incredibly well within the mystery genre. That the late Stephen Sondheim has a cameo here is no accident; the composer co-wrote one of the more entertaining puzzle movies of the last 50 years, “The Last of Sheila.”
“Glass Onion,” in Boston theaters Nov. 23 and on Netflix Dec. 23, could have been called “The Last of Cassandra.” Cassandra (Janelle Monáe), or Andi as she’s known to her former friends, is the outlier invited to a bash being held on a private island in Greece. All the other attendees hate her and wonder why she even showed up. The soiree is in a giant dome that resembles the titular vegetable. The host is Miles Bron (Edward Norton), an obnoxious tech bro whose resemblance to Elon Musk is partly coincidental and purely intentional.
The invitation comes entrapped in a box filled with puzzles each invitee must solve. One invitee impatiently takes a hammer to it, but the rest play along as we’re introduced to the film’s suspects. As he did in “Knives Out,” Johnson craftily weaves in a strong plot thread of the haves versus the have-nots. That inclusion feels less clunky this time; the outcome is equally enjoyable in its schadenfreude.
Miles has a nickname for his fellow haves: “the disruptors.” There’s Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), a clueless influencer and fashionista who can’t understand why anyone was offended by her blackface Beyoncé Halloween costume or her use of antisemitic slurs. She became famous for endorsing sweatpants people could wear while they were trapped at home during the pandemic. (The film takes place in mid-2020.)
There’s also Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), a musclebound wannabe YouTuber whose girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), is having an affair with Miles. Kathryn Hahn is Claire, a politician worried about being seen at a party while everyone else is stuck at home quarantining. To show that brothers can be as corruptible as their white counterparts, Leslie Odom Jr. plays Lionel Toussaint, a scientist who invented an energy source that might kill everyone who uses it.
They’ve all been invited to solve a mystery: the murder of Miles Bron. Of course, it’s a game crafted by Miles himself. To add a realistic flair, he invited world-renowned detective Benoit Blanc to join the fun. Or did he? No matter! Blanc is so bored staying at home — he’s been marinating in his bathtub for months, Zooming with famous friends — that the sleuth jumps at the opportunity, COVID be damned.
To add some tension and drama, Miles has invited Cassandra, his former business partner and someone with a clear motive to literally kill him. In fact, as Blanc points out, all the disruptors have reason to do away with Miles, so inviting them to his fake death is like asking someone to bump him off.
From here, the game is afoot. As all sequels go, this one’s bigger, louder, and looser and contains even more twists and turns. What makes “Glass Onion” a superior follow-up is how much fun it is. The actors are all well-cast, showcasing everything from Norton’s eternal smarminess to Hudson’s ability to channel her mother Goldie Hawn’s ease with airhead comedy. Bautista’s wounded soul is barely concealed by his intimidating physicality.
Craig has a ball playing Blanc, the South’s answer to Hercule Poirot. At times, “Glass Onion” invokes the spirit of one of the Belgian detective’s darkest contraptions, “Death on the Nile” (itself given a fine 2022 treatment by director-star Kenneth Branagh). As in Christie’s book, these are reprehensible people you can’t wait to see get knocked off or arrested, and their group mentality is as dangerous as their individual foibles.
Craig may be the main character, but “Glass Onion” belongs to Monáe. Johnson has scripted one hell of a role for her, and she plays it with such a wide range of emotions and tones while modeling a stunning array of power suits that she drops the audience’s jaws. Monae’s performance turns on a dime with whiplash precision, so when the film folds in on itself, we grab hold of her hand for dear life. She pulls us along with such glee that it makes one giddy.
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, Madelyn Cline, Leslie Odom Jr., and Edward Norton. At AMC Boston Common 19, Regal Fenway & RPX, and suburbs. 139 min., PG-13 (profanity, mild violence, the walrus was Paul)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.