By Liv Barry
Nearly three years after the critical and box office success of “Knives Out,” director Rian Johnson returns to the story of detective Benoit Blanc in “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.”
Distributed by Netflix, the film had a limited theatrical run from Nov. 23 until Nov. 30 and will be available on the streaming service beginning Dec. 23.
Due to the many twists and turns that “Glass Onion” takes, this review will be spoiler-free.
When Johnson took to Twitter in June to announce the film’s title, he left many “Knives Out” fans scratching their heads. According to British QG, despite its bizarre sound, Johnson chose the song to pay homage to the 1968 Beatles song “Glass Onion,” in which lyricist Paul McCartney poked fun at fan theorists who analyzed the band’s lyrics too closely.
While the story of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” appears puzzling, it is easy to peel through the layers to find the heart of the mystery.
The film’s offbeat title reflects the tone of the story, which is far goofier and convoluted than its predecessor. Where “Knives Out” stuck to an Agatha Christie-esque formula, complete with a coastal mansion and a score riddled with strings, “Glass Onion” breaks form to tell a wholly modern story.
Initially, it feels as if Johnson is going to set up a mystery akin to Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”
An affluent, if not a little pompous, cast of characters — including Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista — are each sent a puzzle box. Upon completion, the box reveals an invitation to a murder mystery party on an isolated island, hosted by Miles Bron (Edward Norton), a tech billionaire who bears a not-so-subtle resemblance to Elon Musk.
Set during the height of America’s COVID-19 lockdown in May 2020, Johnson establishes the morality of his characters in how they interact with quarantine. Even if the characters respected quarantine in their opening vignettes, their ethics are immediately compromised at the prospect of jet-setting to Greece and partying with Bron during a pandemic.
While the presence of COVID-19 adds a layer of characterization to the film, Johnson’s insistence on referring to it leaves the film feeling dated and bloated with unnecessary exposition.
When Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) receives his puzzle box, he is first seen in the bathtub playing “Among Us” over Zoom with an assortment of celebrities. The absurdity of the moment — the overly-memed mystery game, the mismatched celebrity cameos — is briefly funny, but ultimately a cheap laugh that does little to further the plot or characterize Blanc. This is the first of a few moments that should have been cut from the film.
Despite its two hour and 20 minute duration, “Glass Onion” flies by, its twists and turns slowly revealing the story’s core.
Although it is satisfying to watch the mystery play out, by the end of the film, it felt as if there was a crucial piece missing.
Where “Knives Out” ended with a harsh condemnation of the privileged Thrombey family, “Glass Onion” faltered, finishing on a note that felt like a cop-out in comparison to the ending that Marta (Ana de Armas) received.
By the end of “Knives Out,” Marta finds justice outside of the judicial system, taking control of the Thrombey family’s estate after they betrayed the wishes of their patriarch. The closing shot of Marta looming over the disheveled Thrombeys, drinking out of a mug that says “My House, My Rules, My Coffee,” is one of the best “good for her” moments in film.
While “Glass Onion” attempts to replicate this closing shot, zooming in on the film’s victorious protagonist, the moment feels hollow.
The protagonist does not receive any monetary or social justice outside of the system, but rather, must rely on a group of people who already betrayed them to vouch against the killer in court.
Of course, “Knives Out” and “Glass Onion” are two different films, so one cannot expect the sequel to replicate the exact tone of its predecessor. Nevertheless, it was a disappointment to see the film’s morally compromised characters receive no more than a slap on the wrist.
Despite its less-than-triumphant ending, “Glass Onion” is still enjoyable. It is packed with jokes that will hit for all ages, as well as a number of celebrity cameos, ensuring any family sitting down to watch this for the holidays will have a good time.
Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons.
Photo caption: Former James Bond actor Daniel Craig reprises the role of Benoit Blanc, a Southern gentleman detective that tries to bring justice to murder victims.