REVIEW: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc in Rian Johnson’s GLASS ONION — PHOTO: NETFLIX.

Directed by Rian Johnson — Screenplay by Rian Johnson.

In 2019, Looper and The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson released his original ‘whodunnit’ ensemble crime mystery Knives Out. It was a huge success as it received critical acclaim and notable Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Oscar nominations. The film also helped to bring new life to the ‘whodunnit’ genre. It was so successful that this year there are several of those stories including See How They Run and the Apple-series The Afterparty. The massive success also led to a bidding war for Johnson’s Benoit Blanc-led Knives Out sequels. That bidding war was won by Netflix (they paid a whopping $469 million) and they have released its first sequel today just in time for Christmas. It brings me great joy to report that Glass Onion is almost exactly as good as the original film that preceded it, even though it no longer feels quite as fresh.

Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery takes place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig) spends most of his time on Zoom playing mystery games that he doesn’t quite understand online, and he desperately needs a case to get him focused. He gets exactly that when he is invited to a private island by Miles Bron (played by Edward Norton), an Elon Musk-esque tech billionaire. Bron has invited his closest friends — he calls them disruptors — to an island near Greece to have fun over the weekend and play a murder mystery game, wherein they must solve the mystery of Miles’ death. The so-called disruptors that he has invited include Duke (played by Dave Bautista), a buff and gun-toting Mens’ Rights Twitch-streamer; Claire (played by Kathryn Hahn), a governor running for senate; Birdie Jay (played by Kate Hudson), a supermodel and fashion designer who supposedly “tells it like it is”; Lionel (played by Leslie Odom, Jr.), a scientist from Miles’ company; and, finally, Cassandra Brand (played by Janelle Monae), Miles’ former business partner. When they all meet up on the island, it becomes clear that Miles never actually invited Benoit Blanc, so one of the disruptors must’ve invited him in secret. But for what purpose?

With several critically acclaimed films under his belt, Rian Johnson has already solidified himself as a top-tier filmmaker capable of taking simple stories and unveiling them in engagingly labyrinthine ways without making them feel convoluted. In Glass Onion, Johnson does exactly that. He peels back the layers and unveils the mystery in a really involving way. We are presented with an actual mystery box in the very film, and the film itself is actually sort of a mystery box within a mystery box (possibly even within its own mystery box). This ‘turducken mystery structure’ — a doughnut hole inside of a doughnut hole, if I may — is delightful to follow, and, just when you think you’re beginning to crack the code, Johnson flips the whole thing upside down by the halfway point. I won’t reveal exactly what happens here but say that this trick changes the film quite a bit and makes you see everything through a new perspective.

There are several satisfying little reveals and payoffs throughout the film, but is the ultimate payoff as satisfying as the glorious finale to Knives Out was? Not exactly. I am of two minds when it comes to Glass Onion’s final revelation. On the one hand, I think part of the final reveal was rather easy to predict or see coming, but, on the other hand, it almost feels deliberate. It is practically the point of the film. A glass onion by design has the center there for all to see immediately, so just as we peel back the layers it’s always right in front of us. This reading is also in line with the central political satire at play here. Glass Onion scolds the uber-privileged in society who profit off other people’s hard work or that care not for the hardships of others. It is a film that tries to take down the naive narcissists who fool themselves into thinking that they are on top of things and more intelligent than everyone else. These disruptor characters are stand-ins for real people whom Johnson wants to take down a peg or two.

The first film featured gloriously detailed production design that I still enjoy looking at as easter eggs, and, even though the nouveau richer European island mansion location is completely different from the old family manor in the first film, there are still fun things to look out for. When it comes to costumes, designer Jenny Eagan has outdone herself in the sequel. Benoit Blanc’s wardrobe of outfits has so much character to it, and these colorful outfits (with ascots that speak a thousand words) add new layers to the character that Daniel Craig has chosen to become in the first post-Bond chapter of his career. Kate Hudson also has this wonderful rainbow dress that basically the entire cast stops to marvel at. The film is also wonderfully edited. The film manages to feel playful all the while balancing the mystery box within a mystery box structure in a way that never feels convoluted.

Daniel Craig doesn’t miss a beat. He is every bit as good and compelling as he was in the first film. He is clearly having the time of his life as the detective that he has chosen to give a southern twang. Indeed, the entire ensemble cast is up for it, and Janelle Monae is the standout among the supporting cast, which, from a to z, is having a ball. Monae continues to prove that she is a versatile actress as she gets to show several sides of herself in Glass Onion.

When compared to Knives Out, Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion is equally witty and just as sharply written and edited. It comes oh so close to matching the incredible first film. It is an excellent sequel that doubles down on social and political satire as it takes aim at timely targets that it takes great pleasure in taking down. The only thing that keeps this excellent Netflix Christmas present from topping the original film is the ending which is a tiny bit credulity-stretching but also over-the-top to an extent that it ever so slightly muddies the otherwise masterfully made continuation. Give me all the Benoit Blanc mysteries you’ve got, Rian Johnson.

9 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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