There are a lot of very strong opinions when it comes to Rian Johnson‘s work. Most of the lines drawn in the sand center around his first real foray into the gigantic franchise mainstream, which if we’re being honest is but a fraction of his actual filmography. Johnson thrives in mystery and genre subversion, and some of his best work often involve combining these two things. Yes, that includes “The Last Jedi,” and while I personally love that film, I will say he maybe was the wrong choice for a single film in a larger franchise. That’s another review altogether, though.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is another return to his true form, building on the strengths of its predecessor and delivery another wild whodunit mystery packed with colorful characters and the returning detective Benoit Blanc. Truthfully, the film should be called “Glass Onion: A Benoit Blanc Mystery” since he’s the only hold over from “Knives Out” and outside of it being another mystery for the same detective solve, has zero connection to the first film. It is also tonally different, choosing to focus more on the humor than the mystery, as well as tackling the pandemic and other current events that are incorporated into the story.
It’s here where “Glass Onion” draws its own lines, because your enjoyment of the film greatly depends on what you want from it. “Knives Out” was about bringing a star studded cast together to play eccentric but deeply selfish and self absorbed individuals that function more as vultures than comical characters. The mystery was the key focus, and though not entirely self serious, you wouldn’t necessarily remember it for its comedy. Conversely, “Glass Onion” dials up the comedy to eleven and pushes the mystery to the background. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a spiderweb of storytelling that has no obvious answers until Blanc spells it all out of for us. Simply that the humor takes precedent over the mystery this time around. it’s more “Clue” than “Sherlock,” and though it has both of those things in spades, it becomes clear very quickly that Johnson wants to have more fun this time and deliver a laugh out loud murder mystery.
Written and directed by Johnson, “Glass Onion” reunites audiences with renowned detective Benoit Blanc, who finds himself bored out of his mind due to the lockdowns of the pandemic and no real case to solve. Desperate to get out of the house and solve a mystery, Blanc receives an invitation from eccentric billionaire Miles Bron, who is hosting his annual murder mystery party on his remote island. He invites all of his closest friends, which includes a social media influencer, a vapid fashion icon and her handler, a young model, a senator and a scientist, all of which are connected to Miles in some way or another. The two lone invites are of course Blanc, and Andi, an ex business partner of Miles who’s presence both shocks and unnerves everyone else at the party. Of course, things get out of hand fast, and the murder mystery game turns into a very real murder mystery, with only Blanc having the smarts to figure it all out before someone else gets hurt.
“Glass Onion” firmly plants its feet in the humor and exaggerated portrayals of its colorful cast. Johnson proves he’s still got some mystery tricks up his sleeve. Once again, the strength of his subversive style allows for audiences looking to figure it out quickly to still be surprised by the time the film ends. Much like its predecessor, Johnson cleverly litters the first two acts with easter eggs and puzzle pieces that you don’t even realize are being shown until he finally decides help you along and put it all together to see the larger picture. Both films actually get better with two viewings. The first leaves you wowed by the misdirection and searching for how you didn’t figure out, and the second lets you see how wonderfully crafted everything truly is. This leans more into the humor of it all, it still conjures up these same sentiments, and improves upon the first one in some ways in the process.
Johnson certainly knows how to put a cast together, and gives them all full freedom to indulge in unencumbered performances. Everyone is clearly having a blast, with “Glass Onion” letting largely comedic actors go absolutely nuts with their characters. All of them really dig in too, becoming almost borderline parodies of themselves. Kate Hudson’s Birdie Jay (the fashion icon) is the amalgamation of every stereotype about fashion and models that require a handler to take their phone away because they can’t stop tweeting controversies (there’s a hilarious discussion about sweat shops that I won’t spoil here but its one of the funniest lines in the film). Dave Bautista’s Duke Cody is every single alpha male YouTuber, believing his own hype in every way you’d expect despite having pretty much nothing to offer outside of his “Men’s right activism.” Yes, really. And it’s hilarious. Even Kathryn Hahn’s Claire Debella is every shitty mid level politician you’ve ever seen, worried about poll points and scandals above anything and everyone.
But wait, there’s more!!! Edward Norton’s Miles Bron is every billionaire we have today. He sheds the quirkiness and social awkwardness of Mark Rylance in “Don’t Look Up” for a pretty dumb guy who thinks he’s smarter than everyone. It’s like Johnson kind of knew Elon Musk was dumb long before his Twitter takeover fiasco, and releasing his film amid that dumpster fire feels as timely as it does prophetic. This is the most fun Norton has had in a long time, taping back into the kind of magnetic screen presence he’s always had but has been hindered by his on set antics and comments in recent years. It’s a nice return to form, and the whole cast shines bright without a single weak link.
Of course, there’s Daniel Craig returning as Benoit Blanc, another welcomed returned and one I am thankful he’s willing to make as many of these as Johnson is willing to write. Craig’s Blanc feels like a different character at times, and while it may seem disjointed at first, it actually makes sense when you consider how much 2020 changed us all. When we first see him, he’s literally sitting in the bathtub playing online puzzle games over zoom with some famous friends (more hilarious celebrity cameos that sport a blink and you miss node to some old school performers). Blanc is a man unable to do the one thing he’s great at, the one thing he lives for, so it shouldn’t be at all surprising that he’s not entirely the same man as he was before. Once the foul plot begins to take shape, Blanc returns to form rather quickly.
The true MVP is Janelle Monaé, who absolutely slays it in a room full of killers. With such a massive cast list firing on all cylinders, it should be impossible to stand out. But goddammit does Monaé run way the film, delivering an electric performance that manages to be one of the best in the entire film. She has terrific chemistry with just about everyone she interacts with, and with both characters being the two disrupters on the island, she pairs incredibly well with Blanc. It’s like Johnson looked around at the world in 2020 and wanted to burn it all down in a sweeping, comical satire hidden behind the veil of a murder mystery sequel. It’s pretty wild that in a few months we’ve 3 “eat the rich” themed films that all have their own unique perspective and take on how that theme is presented. “Triangle of Sadness” uses a sledgehammer, “The Menu” uses food and our love of the Food Network, and “Glass Onion” uses humor and murder to convey different facets and critiques of the one percent and filthy rich.
They’re all effective, but “Glass Onion” is probably having the most fun due to the fact that that isn’t its central theme. It’s there, but it isn’t necessarily at its core. And even if it is, Johnson seems to want to have a more playful approach vs a scathing satire of everything. Steven Yedlin’s cinematography is stunning, beautifully capturing the self indulgence of the rich in all its egregious glory. This is bright, vibrant and colorful, a wonderful juxtaposition against the film’s overarching themes of betrayal and murder. Truth be told, “Glass Onion” feels like a very stupid title at first glance, but once the movie begins to take shape it becomes the only thing the feels right. It really is just a well made film all around, from its direction to its writing to its cast to its visuals. It is a welcomed returned to the world of Benoit Blanc, and improves upon its predecessor in some ways and leaves you wanting more and more stories like this. It doesn’t even have to be better or worse than “Knives Out,” because both films have plenty to like and don’t needed to be pitted against each other to be thoroughly enjoyed.
Its one major fault doesn’t have much to do with “Glass Onion” itself but instead, its release method. Look, I’m all for people seeing movies in the easiest way possible, but Johnson’s “Knives Out” franchise deserves a true theatrical release. It is a film better served when you can see it with friends and family and talk about it afterwards. It has all the potential to be box office smashing sequel, one that could stay in the top 10 for a few weeks and keep the conversation going for months on end. Instead, it’s given a paltry one week limited release and will be dumped on Netflix next month. This feels like a loss of excitement that “Glass Onion” brings from a true movie going experience, and simply won’t pack the same punch watching it at home on your couch, half watching it because you’re doomscrolling whenever you think the movie lulls. I’m sorry, but this movie deserves better than Netflix.
Overall, “Glass Onion” is a solid follow up that packs a ton of laughs and a ton of surprises. The cast is great, it looks sleek and bright, and this sequel is sure to satisfy franchise fans as well as garner some new ones. The mystery is beautifully crafted, and Johnson solidifies himself once again as the best whodunit filmmaker working today. If you were a fan of “Knives Out,” I think you’ll be a fan of this one. You do have to decide what you want from it, mystery or humor, because the balance certainly shifts this time around. But if you’re looking for a humor first, mystery second with a ton of actors all having the time of their life, “Glass Onion” is a can’t miss and may be one of my favorite films of the year.
If you can see it in a theater, I highly recommend it. But if you have to watch it at home on Netflix, give it your full attention. It deserves it. Benoit Blanc deserves it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
“Glass Onion” is limited theaters from November 23rd to November 29th. It will hit Netflix December 23rd. You can watch the trailer below.