Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
2022, PG-13, 139 min. Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Noah Segan, Jackie Hoffman.
REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., Nov. 25, 2022
Rian Johnson is a big fanboy. His clever construction never undermines the genre hallmarks of his films (he loves them too much for that), but he wouldn’t be fulfilled without seeing what new areas he can push these genres into. It’s the reason he made one of the only genuinely ambitious pieces of Star Wars media post-Disney buyout, and why 2019’s Knives Out felt like it was lightly tinkering with the expectations of a whodunit mystery as much as it fully embraced those archetypes. He’s had great success in simultaneously subverting and celebrating the ostensible blueprint of any given film.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is yet another pure distillation of the Johnson formula. In the continuing escapades of world-renowned detective Benoit Blanc (a perfect, hilarious Craig), it trades in the cozy, sweater-weather, New England country house setting of its predecessor for a full-blown vacation-style destination murder mystery, set on the sunny shores of a Greek island. It’s completely stand-alone – you could tune in and not miss a beat if you skipped the first movie. If it isn’t immediately obvious, the Agatha Christie worship is on full display. Johnson’s clear reverence for the serialized detective fiction genre is striking, and his indulgence is a joyous amount of fun when it's this cleverly assembled.
The film introduces us to our potential suspects first: a disparate group of friends including floundering politician Claire (Hahn), washed-up pop star Birdie Jay (Hudson), scientist Lionel (Odom Jr.), and men’s rights Twitch streamer Duke (Bautista). Though none seem particularly prone to following lockdown regulations anyway (the film is set in 2020), all are thrilled when they receive an elaborate puzzle box from their mysterious billionaire friend Miles (Norton) that, when opened, invites them all out to his private island for a weekend of food, relaxation, and a planned murder mystery game. All are shocked when not only Blanc arrives but so does Andi (Monáe), an enigmatic piece of the puzzle who clearly does not fit with the rest of the guests. Of course, the weekend does not go as planned, and Blanc grows suspicious of the ensemble and the true reason for this get-together.
If you’ve seen the first film, you know that Johnson is an impressive architect when it comes to structuring the twisty roller coaster of red herrings and story reveals something like this requires. It meanders for a while at the start, taking about a full hour to get to the central mystery, then cleverly recontextualizes everything with an ambitious swerve in the plotting that almost entirely switches what story you thought you were watching. It’s bold and pays off; even if you think you know who’s behind it all, the crafty way information is doled out ensures you would never know how or why.
Though this franchise revels in the tropes of classic whodunits, both films are distinct contemporary products of their social, political, and social climate. Knives Out suffered some defects of the incessantly logged-on social media age, and though Glass Onion isn’t necessarily more subtle, it incorporates its commentary into the story with greater care. Norton is great to see back in a major role, and his megarich dummy techbro character feels less reminiscent of Elon Musk and more of a straight caricature, in a story reflecting the absurdity of society when it's so heavily influenced by such a bonehead.
It’s blunt but not grating, a result of Johnson’s deft touch as a filmmaker. He toes a line of getting too gratuitous, with maybe one too many celebrity cameos, but there’s an infectious quality to the worlds he builds onscreen. It’s a shame most people will see this film on Netflix when it’s primed for the communal experience of an audience, but any way for these films to be financed and released is a net positive. There’s one more confirmed outing for Blanc, but I would take as many of these as possible if they are all this much fun.
Kimberley Jones, Oct. 26, 2013
Steve Davis, Nov. 29, 2019
Richard Whittaker, Dec. 15, 2017
Dec. 2, 2022
Nov. 25, 2022
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Rian Johnson, Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Noah Segan, Jackie Hoffman