REVIEW: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 139 minutes
    Release Date: November 23rd, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Netflix
    Director(s): Rian Johnson
    Writer(s): Rian Johnson

I gave you the truth.

Even world-renowned private detectives like Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) get restless during lockdown. Just as Rian Johnson‘s Knives Out put some tongue-in-cheek gags a la Trumpism and the rise of fascism under the façade of politics, his sequel Glass Onion injects a bit of COVID pandemic fatigue in much the same way. Whereas that window dressing continued throughout the former via juxtaposing a Latina lead against her affluently entitled white employers, it ends here quite early so that the mystery itself can take center stage. It’s merely the catalyst for Blanc to drop everything (by which I mean locking himself in the bathroom to lose badly at Among Us opposite a star-studded selection of friends—half of which have sadly passed since filming) and solve a “real” case.

I use quotes because said “case” is a murder mystery rather than an actual murder. Like Knives Out—wherein his interest was piqued by the seemingly random and anonymous invitation to poke his nose into an apparent suicide, his fascination here is with the yet unknown reason for his inclusion. Tech genius Miles Bron (Edward Norton) usually keeps these annual, exorbitantly expensive reunions amongst his closest chums: the so-called “disruptors” including his chief scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), current governor and Senate-nominee Claire (Kathryn Hahn), model/entrepreneur Birdie (Kate Hudson), Twitch influencer Duke (Dave Bautista), and the partner with whom he built his empire (Janelle Monáe‘s Andi) before recently freezing her out. How does Blanc fit in? Perhaps Miles thought a real detective’s presence might spice up the game.

Intentions aside, someone is going to die. Perhaps multiple someones. And we can start making our hypotheses very early considering Andi’s introduction to the fold arrives via a hammer to Miles’ elaborate puzzle box invite after the others meticulously (with the help of Duke’s Ma, as played by Jackie Hoffman) solved each clue. Add the fact that the group is slack-jawed with shock when she shows up at the pier to board the yacht to Miles’ private Greek island and we at least know who everyone thinks has put a huge target on their backs. Johnson would never be so simplistic, though. If his first whodunnit is any indication, simplicity exists to be subverted and/or complicated by additional unforeseen levels of intrigue. There’s more than meets the eye.

Sadly, revealing those levels doesn’t prove as smooth or organic with Glass Onion. Instead of giving a glimpse of each character’s truth before letting them lie, Johnson progresses the plot almost to the halfway point before providing us the context necessary to stop being in the dark ourselves (one of the genius moves with Knives Out was letting us know the answers before everyone else as a means of masking the reality that we only knew some of the answers). This rug pull, while effective, can’t help but feel clunky as a result since we’re ultimately made to go back and relive everything at once instead of incrementally. Luckily, the humor born from an eccentric cast of caricatures helps ease the weight of that halt in the action.

It’s why my first reaction upon leaving the theater was that, despite Glass Onion not being as smart as Knives Out, it was definitely just as entertaining—if not more. Miles is pretty much a man-child in the vein of Elon Musk constantly name-dropping and showing off his impossible collection of art to the sycophants who call him “friend” in return for bankrolling whatever endeavor they are currently embroiled in. It’s why Andi is so fascinating (and why Monáe ultimately steals the whole show thanks to having the most grounded and complex character of them all). She had the integrity to say, “No.” And she lost everything in return. So, why not attend this isolated weekend getaway with the Judases who betrayed her? Why not “disrupt” their comfort?

Johnson amplifies his deflection with comedy as each actor leans hard into their respective stereotypical affectations. Nobody on-screen is therefore what they appear—not even Blanc considering someone of his stature wouldn’t truly jump at the chance to lord his superior deductive reasoning skills over a bunch of rich assholes. Would he? (To be fair, he stumbles through so much of Knives Out that you do wonder if his so-called brilliance is more about public perception and hyperbolic celebrity culture than the actual work.) And with some supporting figures sprinkled in to cause chaos (Madelyn Cline‘s Whiskey is Duke’s girlfriend and Miles’ mistress), seek sanity (Jessica Henwick‘s Peg desperately trying to keep Birdie’s foot out of her mouth), and supply vibes (Noah Segan‘s Derol), anything can happen.

Beyond the wholesale rewind, it all progresses at a brisk pace too. I don’t love that Blanc is the one holding secrets this time since it feels more manipulative than surprising, but it’s nice to know Johnson is willing to ensure each chapter in this franchise is different enough to keep us guessing. That he and Craig still allow Blanc to live in that gray area of “genius or lucky” is great too because it means we never grow tired of his inclusion as a bystander. These films aren’t about him solving cases. They are about the fallibilities of those committing and being victimized within them. It all goes back to what he says about midway through: he can guarantee nothing but the truth. Not vengeance. Not justice.

Those results are up to the people involved to either push us towards a happy ending or create even more room for criminal activity. When you’re dealing with a bunch of opportunistic cutthroats, you can’t pretend to believe just one is guilty. That’s why Blanc hates Clue. It’s never so cut and dry. Accomplices abound as everyone is ganging up on everyone else. Glass Onion is more “Survivor” than murder mystery with Blanc playing host instead of Poirot. He’s connecting threads by playing back the tapes. He’s seeing that he’s not watching masterminds, but idiots running around on impulse rather than reason. The film is thus a perfect encapsulation of the title: transparently hollow despite convoluted layers (so many stunt cameos!). But it’s also a ton of fun.

[1] Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). (L-R) Kate Hudson as Birdie, Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel, Kathryn Hahn as Claire, Edward Norton as Myles, Jessica Henwick as Peg, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey and Dave Bautista as Duke. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.
[2] Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). (L-R) Dave Bautista as Duke and Madelyn Cline as Whiskey. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.
[3] Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). Janelle Monae as Andi. Cr. John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.

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