Synopsis: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, master detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) receives an invitation to tech billionaire Miles Bron’s (Edward Norton) private island for a murder mystery game. Craving excitement and adventure, Blanc obliges, only to realise upon his arrival that Bron never invited him to begin with. Sensing danger afoot, Blanc ingratiates himself with Bron’s eclectic circle of ‘disruptor’ friends, including Bron’s head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), disgraced fashionista Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) with her put-upon assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) in tow, men’s rights Internet streamer Cody Duke (Dave Bautista) with his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), and most intriguing of all, Bron’s former business partner Cassandra ‘Andi’ Brand (Janelle Monae), who was recently ousted from the company. As the weekend develops, Blanc begins to suspect that for at least one of the guests, murder is more than just a game …
1. Go and watch Glass Onion on Netflix now. Bookmark this page, watch it, and read the rest of this review. You’ll thank me later.
Verdict: Highly Recommended
Major spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
2. Glass Onion might be the most fun I’ve had at a movie all year. The sequel to Rian ‘COTBSWFSEETTAVLBTC’ (1) Johnson’s surprise smash hit Knives Out (hence the clunky titling) continues its predecessor’s work in simultaneously paying homage to and subverting the whodunnit genre and its associated tropes. Knives Out won me over when it literally revealed the killer thirty minutes into the film, and Glass Onion has an equally daring shift midway through its runtime that forces the audience to reevaluate everything they have seen before. Glass Onion also continues Knives Out‘s skewering of the 1%, and while its elevated portrayal of the age-old ‘slobs vs. snobs’ conflict is not quite as elegant as the first film’s, it does have a timely (if unsubtle) message about the way in which society valorises and fetes mediocre white men as geniuses just because they happened to gain a bunch of money through luck and exploitation. More importantly, Glass Onion is just brilliant entertainment. It zips by with fleet foot and a light touch, buoyed by Johnson’s impeccable craftsmanship and the talent of its ludicrously stacked cast. The central mystery remains compelling throughout, and it has some of the funniest scenes you will see all year. While it doesn’t quite match up to its predecessor due to some slightly clunky plotting and a climax that drags on for too long, there is no question that Glass Onion is yet another excellent entry in Johnson’s filmography and the overall Knives Out franchise.
3. Part of the appeal of the whodunnit genre in film is that it allows for the construction of an absolutely stacked cast. With true ensemble films becoming less and less common, the whodunnit is the last bastion of the old-school ‘look at the names on our marquee’ motion picture. It’s not difficult to see why so many big names would be drawn to this genre – you get decent screentime, hang out in a fun location, and get to play big and broad characters. Aside from the obvious profit motive, having huge stars also raises the film’s quality by establishing the characters quickly thanks to the presence of pre-existing personas. Kathryn Hahn can play competent but frazzled in her sleep. Dave Bautista literally played an angry meathead for over a decade in the WWE. And ‘smug asshole who thinks he’s superior to others’ is like, 80% of Ed Norton’s roles. Nonetheless, while it may not be surprising, it is still very welcome how excellent all the performances in Glass Onion are, from the better known actors I mentioned earlier to less famous performers like Jessica Henwick, Leslie Odom Jr., and Madelyn Cline. The standout performances though, belong to one particular trio. Daniel Craig is clearly having a blast (as he was in the previous film) as Benoit Blanc and delivering the ultimate anti-James Bond performance. Blanc is essentially a caricature of a Southern dandy, and with the confirmation of his homosexuality in Glass Onion, Craig is given free rein to lean in further into the character’s campier and queerer mannerisms, along with the expected ridiculously cartoonish Southern accent. Janelle Monae is also fantastic in her role(s), which get more and more complex and convoluted as the plot reveals the multiple layers that lie beneath her seemingly cold and distant character. But to me, the real MVP of Glass Onion is Kate Hudson, who serves up a timely reminder why she was such a big box-office draw in the 2000s. The same flighty, loopy charisma is still in evidence, but the film tempers it with a seething insecurity and envy that we can always see simmering underneath her luminosity. With any luck, this could be the start of a welcome return to bigger roles for Hudson, who has been somewhat toiling away in semi-obscurity over the last decade or so.
4. As great as the cast is, there is no doubt in my mind that the real star of Glass Onion is the man and the mind behind the camera. Johnson’s filmmaking craftsmanship remains as impeccable as always, and if anything, he might have gotten even better in terms of using the camera for comedy’s sake. While I believe Glass Onion to not be as strong as Knives Out, there is no doubt that it is certainly the funnier film. In particular, Johnson’s use of shots with multiple actors in the same frame is quite superb, allowing the viewer to get reaction shots from the rest of the cast as one of its (many) delusional characters delivers yet another self-serving monologue. Johnson is also not afraid of using extreme angles or very tight close-ups to punctuate a point, with him and editor Bob Ducsay exhibiting a strong intuition of knowing exactly when to cut into a reaction shot or an insert shot that deflates the pompous self-aggrandisement of the characters. I’ve mentioned this before, but too many Hollywood comedies have devolved into static, boring medium shots of actors doing improv, and it’s wonderful to see visual comedy done right via shot choices and editing. Of course, much of the film’s comedy also comes from its screenplay, which is loaded with zinger after zinger. Couple all of these aspects together – the witty dialogue, the strong fundamental setup-payoff joke structure, the talent of the actors delivering the lines, and the perfectly shot and cut scenes, and it’s no wonder why I spent most of Glass Onion bursting into laughter on my living room couch. It’s a pity that the film (at least in my country) is not getting a theatrical release, because I do think some of these jokes would slay a crowded theatre (in particular, I’m thinking about the one which quibbles over the definition of the word ‘sweatshop’). Of special comedic note is also the scene where Blanc solves Bron’s ‘murder mystery’, with Craig chewing the scenery so hard that he probably had to pull splinters from his teeth after filming was over. It’s easily one of the best scenes of the year, and a worthy successor to the ‘doughnut’ monologue from the first Knives Out.
5. Of course, it is not possible to discuss this movie without talking politics. Famously, Johnson’s left-leaning politics have become more and more pronounced in his work, which formed part of the ‘controversy’ around The Last Jedi as Star Wars fans recoiled from the film’s hardcore socialist propaganda such as (checks notes) ‘women of colour exist’ and ‘maybe let’s stop remaking the same movie over and over again’. Knives Out, as mentioned, went full tilt into class politics, pitting its gang of old-monied assholes against a working-class immigrant woman. Glass Onion, on the other hand, reserves its ire for new money – tech billionaires, social media influencers, and seemingly liberal members of the political elite. There are moments where Johnson’s messaging tips into tubthumping, with a particularly barbed statement by Blanc about not mistaking speaking without thought to speaking the truth seemingly destined to be quoted ad nauseum by social media accounts replying to whatever bigoted nonsense passes for intellectual discourse from the right wing these days. However, just because Johnson is correct doesn’t make lines like this feel any less like what stand-up comedians call ‘clapter’, (2) and it does feel like a bit too much pandering to the audience. Contrast this to the film’s most urgent and cogent political statement, which rather than just being bluntly spelled out to the audience, is woven in nicely with the film’s overall plot and central mystery. The fact that most billionaires are mediocre white men who are not 4D-chess playing geniuses but rather insecure dweebs who got lucky and/or exploited the right people at the right time should not need to be said, but this is sadly a world where a mass of bootlickers seem to materialise any time one of them says or does something stupid to blather on about how this is a part of some master plan. Online chatter has pegged the obvious Bron-Musk comparisons, but Johnson swears (and I agree) that it was never purely about the unclothed-Emperor of Twitter, which makes sense when you consider that the timing of when the film was written and shot predates the current meltdown that we are seeing today. It is a more general shot at the tech billionaire class as a whole, with a dash of Jobs (Norton literally dons a black turtleneck at one point), Zuckerberg (with a reference to Andi being ‘social networked’), and Dorsey (Bron’s entire faux-hippy schtick). As such, there is something very cathartic to Blanc’s dressing down of Bron as being nothing more than a blithering idiot who has fooled the world into buying his genius bonafides, and if anything, this is the real message that ought to be taken away from Glass Onion.
6. However, it is after said dressing down where the film begins to deflate. Without being too spoilery, the final few scenes of the movie were a little disappointing, with a sense of aimlessness that does not cohere with the breakneck momentum of its first two hours. Johnson seems to want his cake and eat it too, by showing that people in the 1% do not get punished by the judicial system, while also wanting the audience to leave with a sense that justice has been served. As such, the ending of Glass Onion cannot hold a candle to Knives Out‘s wonderful denouement, with a scene of mass destruction that was clearly intended to be cathartic instead just dragging on beyond its welcome. This is also when the realism of the film begins fray at the seams, for while Glass Onion always took place in a slightly skewed version of our world, the ending almost feels like a cartoon, to the extent that I almost expected Looney Tunes style sound effects to accompany the chaos that ensues. If I am generous to Johnson (which I feel inclined to be), I would say that many of Agatha Christie’s narratives (which are the main inspirations for the Benoit Blanc movies) did end with similar recognitions that there was no way for the perpetrator to be punished by the system, forcing Detective Poirot to take things into his own hands to serve justice instead. (3) But these endings were often a mournful recognition of the limits of human justice, while Glass Onion descends perilously close to farce in its final scenes. Again, while I can respect Johnson’s screenwriting and directorial craft (the ending pays off multiple setups that have been very well established across the length of the film), it is a tonal shift that is just too much for me. It smacks of a filmmaker writing himself out of a corner, and for even one as gifted as Rian Johnson, the stench of flop sweat and desperation is too obvious to hide.
7. Nonetheless, a weak ending does not temper my recommendation for Glass Onion in the slightest. For most of its runtime, it was easily the most entertaining (give or take an Everything Everywhere All At Once) movie I saw for the whole of 2022. The central mystery is cleverly plotted, with a fiendish mid-film twist literally forcing a brand new perspective on all the events of the first half of the movie. Johnson’s craft is also as impeccable as always, lending the film a propulsive momentum while maximising the comic and dramatic impact of every single scene. He is ably assisted by his fantastic cast, who all seem like they’re having a blast spitting out the screenplay’s clever one-liners and performing in the film’s big setpieces. It does not quite match up to its predecessor in quality, but thanks to a very timely message about not treating rich mediocre white men like gods, Glass Onion very much captures the zeitgeist of our current moment while also being a riotously fun watch. Here’s hoping that Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig put out the next Benoit Blanc film sooner rather than later.
Verdict: Highly Recommended
- Creator of the best Star Wars film since Empire even though that’s a very low bar to clear
- Defined by Urban Dictionary as ‘a joke, often making a political or social statement, whose purpose is to make the audience applaud and agree rather than laugh.
- Read the final Poirot novel Curtain for the ultimate example.