This review is spoiler-free.
It’s downright absurd that Netflix is only releasing Glass Onion for one week in theaters. This uproariously fun whodunnit deserves to be enjoyed with an enthusiastic audience. While not as tightly characterized as Knives Out, it’s still just as entertaining, with detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) returning opposite a new ensemble cast of obnoxious rich people.
Director: Rian Johnson
This hilarious and intricately-plotted ‘Knives Out’ sequel is just as fun as the original – even if some of the characters and social satire don’t pack quite the same punch.
The transition from Knives Out to Glass Onion thumbs its nose at Hollywood’s obsession with origin stories. Knives Out introduced Benoit Blanc as an established character, as self-assured and distinctive as Sherlock Holmes. No explanation necessary. Solving a Clue-style murder at a Massachusetts mansion, Blanc was a larger-than-life counterpoint to Ana de Armas’ relatable protagonist. Glass Onion shifts focus to put Blanc in the lead role, offering more insight into his personality while tackling an equally elaborate crime.
Set during the early weeks of the pandemic, Glass Onion takes place on the private island of an Elon Musk-alike tech billionaire named Miles Bron (Edward Norton). He invites a gaggle of famous friends to join him, along with two surprise guests: His estranged business partner Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), and Benoit Blanc. In the grand traditions of the genre, one of their party then dies under mysterious circumstances.
Rian Johnson is an accomplished structural writer, delivering similarly twisty tales in Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper. Drawing inspiration from genre classics like The Thin Man and Murder on the Orient Express, he’s fantastic at teasing viewers with a few predictable clues while building up to a wildly complicated conclusion. Glass Onion delivers once again, while also being outrageously funny. In a few areas, however, it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor.
Led by Norton and Monáe (both great, obviously), the ensemble cast includes Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista, along with a plethora of cameos and self-aware celebrity gags. (A running joke about Jeremy Renner’s fictitious hot sauce brand got a big laugh.) Surprisingly though, not all of the main actors get a chance to shine.
Much of the first film’s charm lay in its array of pitch-perfect satirical roles, played to the hilt by actors like Toni Collette and Michael Shannon. This time around, some of the characters aren’t firing on all cylinders. Leslie Odom Jr. just doesn’t get much to do, and Kathryn Hahn is only working at about 70% capacity.
By extension, the social commentary doesn’t feel quite as neat. While Knives Out‘s vintage setting made its modern details feel fresh, Glass Onion is almost too contemporary. The pandemic humor already feels dated, and certain jokes about social media/tech culture are a little too obvious—for instance, a Men’s Rights streamer (Dave Bautista) being undercut by his elderly mother, a version of the old “living in your mom’s basement” gag. That said, these issues barely detract from the overall entertainment value. Rian Johnson keeps the jokes and twists flying at a satisfying pace—and Daniel Craig is having so much fun.
It’s tempting to dismiss Benoit Blanc as an amusing caricature: Daniel Craig’s silly-accented antidote to James Bond. But that does a disservice to Blanc’s deceptively clever conceit. I’m beginning to think he’s one of the few great new protagonists of this cinematic era, when most “entertainment” movies are action-heavy franchises based on corporate IP. Harking back to classic Hollywood, Rian Johnson made bank with a classic formula: A smart script and a charismatic cast of wacky characters, orbiting a singular star.
Like Columbo, Blanc combines a sharp analytical mind with an amusing style of social engineering. Manipulating the egos of the super-rich, he allows people to underestimate him due to his theatrical speech patterns and persnickety dress sense. The thing is, none of this is really an act. His public persona is just a smoothed-over version of his true identity and tastes; an idea that becomes all the more interesting after this film reveals that he’s gay.
Echoing Holmes and Poirot, Knives Out introduced Blanc as an ambiguously queer-coded figure, standing apart from the chaos of his surroundings. Glass Onion gives us a peek behind the curtain, creating a divide between the murder suspects (who only know what Blanc chooses to show them) and the audience (who have seen inside his house). We’re invited to share his excitement at uncovering a new mystery, while also appreciating the deeper morals at play. Invited into elite spaces, he’s a neckerchief-clad saboteur among bloviating assholes, skewering the weaknesses of people who are otherwise impervious to consequences.