NOTE: This article will contain minor story aspect spoilers, but nothing revealing the ending or anything like that!
I initially had heard that Glass Onion–Rian Johnson’s not-quite-a-sequel to the 2019 hit Knives Out–was going to be Netflix only, and I have to admit: that left me feeling disappointed. I was a fan of the last offering, and I was hoping to be able to catch the next adventure in the full cinematic experience.
So imagine my joy when it was announced that Glass Onion was getting a week-long theatrical release over the Thanksgiving holiday! FINALLY! Something to actually be thankful for, right? Who needs turkey and family when I can have Daniel Craig stammering in… Kentuckian, I guess?
I had Knives Out as my #4 movie of 2019 (not including any movies I saw since I quit updating my 2019 rankings back in 2020), and the three movies ahead of it were all Five Star flicks in my ratings (Avengers Endgame, Parasite, Jojo Rabbit). So Glass Onion had quite a legacy to live up to! It was, of course, the story of the death of a famous elderly writer, and it was much more of a Howdunnit than a Whodunnit. Love it or hate it, Knives Out flipped the mystery convention on its head by showing you the death and who caused it in the first act, leaving the rest of the tale to unfold with the “why’s” and “how’s” and “will they get away with it’s” being revealed along the way.
If you are expecting something similar with Glass Onion, I don’t have any great news for you: while it is entirely unconventional in aspects of its storytelling, Glass Onion is decidedly more straight-forward as a mystery than its predecessor.
(Also, are you noticing how much I am saying the title of the movie? I’m inoculating you to the fact that you will hear characters say the phrase “glass onion” approximately a hundred times over the movie’s length. One character one time worked “knives out” into a sentence in the last Benoit Blanc mystery, but Johnson let his fancy carry him much more away here)
Benoit Blanc is the only connective tissue from Glass Onion to Knives Out; none of the rest of the Thrombey family or acquaintances make any appearances here (unless they were sneaked in and I missed them). And that’s more than fine; if Johnson wants to make a Benoit Blanc Cinematic Universe that extends as far as he can go, I am here for it. I know it’s controversial, but I could listen to Daniel Craig affect that ridiculous accent until I die. It’s so disarming!
Much like with Knives Out, Glass Onion follows a cadre of unlikable but connected characters as they are reunited by circumstance… not long before a murder pushes Blanc to his limits in trying to figure out what’s really the root cause of everything going on. At the top of everything is Ed Norton’s Miles Bron character, an Elon Musk style eccentric billionaire genius who brings all of his associates (current and former) to his private Grecian Island.
Kate Hudson is an aging model-cum-fasionista; her long-suffering assistant Peg is portrayed by Jessica Henwick. Dave Bautista is an M.R.A. internet personality, and Madelyn Cline, his clinger-on girlfriend. Leslie Odom Jr plays a chemist in the employ of Bron. The delightful Kathryn Hahn is a Governor in the process of running for Senator. And Janelle Monae is the mysterious Andi, Miles’ former partner who recently lost a high-profile court case to Bron.
If you have seen the trailers, you might understand that the premise is that Bron has invited all his friends for a weekend-long murder mystery experience where they all will seek to discover who pretend-murdered their friend. That is, in fact, how the movie starts, but don’t worry… someone does seem to perish long after the game is over with, so there are real stakes at hand.
From that point, it’s a case of recollecting what all the characters (and we, the audience) had seen and heard–and what we THOUGHT we’d seen and heard–since everyone arrived to figure out the mystery of it all. And make no mistake: Glass Onion does lie to you as it goes, but in such a way that I didn’t cry “foul” at any point; I just applauded the misdirection of it all.
TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS
+Like Knives Out, Glass Onion has a star-studded cast. Unlike Knives Out, Glass Onion uses its cast much more effectively. One of the few complaints I had about Knives was that the use of Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Don Johnson all felt like stunt casting. Their characters were neither developed nor important; they just felt relevant because we knew the actors’ faces. With Glass Onion, Johnson gives just about everyone in the cast an equal amount of heavy lifting, and they all feel more relevant to the story for it. The characters have more depth, and they all feel like they could be the person behind everything.
+The movie is WONDERFULLY directed by Johnson, who continues to have one of the better eyes for setting up scenes of any regular director working today. The use of glass to warp some perspectives is a lot of fun, and the minutes leading up the film’s actual murder are beautifully chaotic and anxiety-inducing. You as a a viewer KNOW something is about to happen, but you aren’t sure what… until it happens. And by the time it does, the visual and audio cacophony had me completely unnerved. In a world where WAY TOO MANY MOVIES are doing Upside-Down shots to create unease, Johnson uses creativity instead.
-The story is well-written and the characters are fun, but there are several instances of folks feeling more like cartoons than human beings, and–despite my affection for it–that’s where Blanc’s Foghorn Leghorn tongue hinders the story a bit because it exasperates how Not Real the world feels. Is this a HUGE deal? No. The movie wants to have fun, and it has fun, but some aspects like Kate Hudson’s over-the-top reactions to things just make the world feel less authentic (which is not a knock on Hudson, who is a joy here; I’m sure she’s acting as instructed).
-Knives Out was about Anna De Armas’s character and if she could (and if she deserved to) elude Benoit Blanc. Glass Onion has Blanc straight ahead as the focal point, and he worked better as a sort of benevolent antagonist in Knives Out than here. He’s fun, and like I said… I’m down for more movies focused on him. But the cat-and-mouse of Knives Out was something I ultimately missed.
It’s not as polished or creative as Knives Out, but it also handles its cast far better than Knives Out did. This was an absolute blast to watch, and by the end I was cursing myself for clues I missed, red herrings I fell for, and for believing some of the film’s deceptions. Great fun, all told!