Three years ago, Rian Johnson’s humble follow-up to …let’s just say, polarizing… Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out in the form of Knives Out. Unlike said film set in a galaxy far far away, the consensus on Knives Out was pretty unanimous in that it was a raucously good time that reinvented elements of, but still respected the core of, the Christie-like murder mystery. It sent Ana de Armas’s already steadily climbing career into an absolute rocket and has given Daniel Craig a blank check to be silly with celebrities in his post-Bond years. Johnson, who retained the rights to the franchise through his T-Street label, shopped a sequel around to studios outside of just Lionsgate and MRC, who financed the first film. Losing the opportunity to produce a sequel, Lionsgate and MRC lost the bidding war to Netflix, who purchased the rights to two sequels for a whopping $469 million. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, is the fruit of Netflix’s money, and Johnson’s (and also another massively stacked cast’s) labor.
Set during the height of the pandemic, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), tired of his seemingly meaningless life stuck in his apartment, receives a mysterious invitation to a Greek island getaway weekend hosted by billionaire tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton), teasing a weekend where the guests get to help solve his murder. Upon arrival in Greece, Blanc finds himself a stranger amongst an old group of powerful friends: politician Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), Twitch streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), model/socialite Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Miles’s scorned former business partner, Andi (Janelle Monáe). Seemingly confused at first, Blanc realizes that Bron has set up an elaborate mystery for his friends to solve his own hypothetical murder and that he has brought Blanc as a prop to help assist them. But as soon as the mystery begins, the group finds themselves with a real dead body and an actual murder for Blanc to solve amongst another group of the worst people you’ve ever met.
Frankly put, I could watch about 50 different variations of this formula with Johnson writing Craig’s Blanc solving different murder mysteries with different A-list ensembles. Lacking any real tethering to reality, this gives everyone both in front of and behind the camera relative carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want with characters, situations, motivations, etc. Adding this layer of unpredictability gives each mystery a different bite that, while they’re never the most elaborate schemes imaginable, there’s enough of a run around to where you simply can’t track which way Johnson is going to take you. Even going with the more obvious option (like shown in the first film), can still be exciting when you let us believe that the film is too smart to do that. Johnson cyclically takes you in every different direction and twists every bit of possible absurdity out of this screenplay to make something so completely hyperactive that even the obvious choices feel unlikely.
And Glass Onion is, at least on the level of scale, bigger and better than the first film. Evoking the feel of seaside murder mysteries like Evil Under The Sun (1982) and The Last of Sheila (1973) (this one particularly, given its similar absurdity), Glass Onion ramps up the broad caricatures, silly one-liners, and genuinely stupid (“stupid” is a term of endearment in my household) sight gags, all of which are wondrously funny, but, more than that, they rarely ever don’t have a callback to something important later. There isn’t a bad joke, silly exaggeration, or dirty look given between the cast that isn’t revisited by Blanc in meaningful detail later. This is paired with Johnson’s ability to meaningfully touch on social issues within the group while never losing the sheer folly of it all.
The cast, unsurprisingly excellent across the board, excels at their goofy caricatures, but one light, like de Armas in the first film, shines above the rest: Janelle. Motherf*cking. Monáe. While Monáe has been around the block in film and television (not even touching on her illustrious music career), and has delivered some truly great performances, there’s something that feels so “star-making” about their role in Glass Onion, even though they proved they’re a star long before this film. Regardless, there is an icy, but lovable energy to her role here, one that radiates nothing but main character energy, even in the presence of the actual main character played by Craig. They are where Glass Onion begins and ends, and for every scene where they’re not there, you feel a loss in greatness wash over you…luckily, they have main character energy because they’re one of the main characters, and we are all better as viewers because of that.
There was something miraculous about Knives Out that came from its genuinely “out-of-the-blue” nature. It was an original story, written and directed by a huge name in filmmaking, with a massive ensemble cast, produced on a mid-tier budget, and it raked in hundreds of millions of dollars on word-of-mouth alone. Glass Onion, while technically being bigger and better in almost every way, loses a small bit of that unpredictability of just what exactly it’s going to be, simply because the formula has now been established, but the actual writing of the formula has never been stronger. There is nothing more I want to share about Glass Onion, lest I devolve into anything that could be considered spoiler territory, and as those who have seen Knives Out know, the fun comes from the mystery. Luckily, the magic of the absurdist mystery has not been lost in a second outing, and now that Johnson has proven that he has the material for multiple rounds in this series, I am already ready for the third outing, and the fourth one, and the fifth one, and so on, forever and ever…
Screened during Film Fest 919 2022.
One week only theatrical sneak preview starting on November 23rd, 2022.
Available on Netflix December 23rd, 2022.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
Categories: Films To Watch, In Theaters, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming
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