With “Glass Onion,” it’s not a Rian Johnson whodunit, it’s a Rian Johnson hediditagain.

2019’s surprise of the holiday season was writer/director Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, a whodunit that takes all the hallmarks of the great mystery writers and gave it his own spin. First, there’s the rich family where motive is everywhere and a family fortune is on the line. Then there’s the master detective trying to figure it all out, Benoit Blanc, played with a delicious southern drawl by Daniel Craig (007 series). But where murder mysteries usually are something to be deduced through the adventure, Johnson put it all out for us to witness, opting instead to have the audience follow the innocent caretaker, Marta (Ana de Armas), as she followed the patriarch/murder victim’s advice so as not to get caught. Knives Out remains a fantastic film on successive rewatches and Johnson’s follow-up tale, Glass Onion, follows in that vein, taking conventions and twisting them all around so that we aren’t sure what to believe and we’re delighted all the same.

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Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

Bored and frustrated without a case, Benoit Blanc is delighted to receive a strange package from billionaire genius Miles Bron (Edward Norton) inviting him to come to Greece to take part in a weekend adventure in which all the guests must try to solve the mystery of his murder. Blanc isn’t the only one to be invited, but he is the only guest without some kind of history with Bron. As all gather on the island, Bron’s silly game turns deadly serious as the group realizes that with no way in and no way out, a killer is among them.

What follows is as spoiler-free a review as possible. Of course, it may be worth waiting to read this until *after* you see the film to ensure that not an ounce of the fun is ruined.

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Janelle Monáe as Andi in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY. Cr: John Wilson/NETFLIX. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

Knives Out didn’t reinvent the wheel on the whodunit, Johnson just took elements people were familiar with and toyed with them until they felt fresh. The same occurs here with Glass Onion. It’s not just the climate and season that’s shifted (cold upstate New York for hot Greece) or that we’re following a family of a different sort (biological vs. friend-based). It’s that Johnson applied the same thinking of the previous film where he placed various aspects out in the open (like the death of Harlon Thrombey (Christopher Plummer)) and took that idea further where just about everything is out in the open. Glass isn’t just in the title, it’s a physical texture making up Bron’s central component on his island (the literal glass onion), it’s the medium of much of his artwork, it’s the idea that permeates the Greek island as it’s full of open spaces drenched in sunlight. So much is out in the open for the sharp-eyed Blanc to take in, hungry as he is for a challenging case. Johnson goes even further, placing significant aspects, things in Knives Out that were hidden pieces like a secret staircase, in the open with chilling brazenness or abject stupidity (the decision being left up to the audience to deduce). But all of this is part of the fun of what’s now known as the Knives Out Mysteries, seeing how Johnson can pull us in before we forget that we’re supposed to be paying close attention.

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L-R: Edward Norton as Miles, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey, Kathryn Hahn as Claire, Dave Bautista as Duke, Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel, Jessica Henwick as Peg, Kate Hudson as Birdie, Janelle Monáe as Andi, and Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY. Cr. John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.

Much of this is a credit to the cast and their performances. Significantly smaller than Knives Out, Glass Onion boasts new characters for the audience either to love or loathe. They each represent some aspect of popular culture (science, politics, gamer, influencer), showing how each one is connected. Much as the characters in the first film represented the cishet white normative few of wealth and politics, Glass Onion’s characters come to embody the connective nature of influencers of our times and how, perhaps, it’s not the lower or middle class that are the problem with society but the one’s at the top of the pyramid. Why? As portrayed by Edward Norton (Keeping the Faith), Dave Bautista (My Spy), Kate Hudson (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), Kathryn Hahn (This Is Where I Leave You), and Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), each of these individuals started as dreamers wanting to change the world and found themselves in situations where their success and failure is bound to the success and failure of the other. There is no individual, there is only the collective, but their collective is all that exists. The struggle to maintain status once achieved may birth the need to kill to stay at the top. Here, everyone can see everything, thanks to the net they’ve built, the bonds they’ve forged, yet, even with all of their truths out in the open, secrets prove disarming and deadly. There is no room for a kind heart here.

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L-R: Edward Norton as Miles, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey, and Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

Amid the cruelty, there’re also a fair number of laughs. By comparison, far more than the previous outing. Some of this is due to the absolutely outlandish extravagance on display on Bron’s island. Others come from the ridiculous products (I’m hoping fictitious but I dare not investigate and break that particular glass) Bron and his associates avail themselves of. There’s humor to be found in each moment, yet, if one considers what’s funny about it, a dark pallor appears, reminding us that those at the top live a very different life than the rest of us. Thankfully, though, the humor Johnson peppers in via situation, line delivery, or reaction, all has a purpose. In fact, everything we see and hear has a purpose, and it’s this attention to detail which makes Glass Onion a film that measures up well as a sophomore outing in the series. Like its predecessor, Glass Onion is a deep well of ideas, most of which delivering on their promise. This provides the audience a sense that the narrative moves at a speedy clip. It’s not racing or rushing itself, we just get caught up in the momentum of it. If not for a narrative-necessary slowdown, the whole of the film would be a jaunty affair. It’s this forced slowdown that almost creates a plume of smoke it breaks so hard, but once back on track, Glass Onion gets back to being a sharply funny and cutting mystery.

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L-R: Kathryn Hahn as Claire, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey, Edward Norton as Miles, Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel, and Kate Hudson as Birdie in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY. Cr. John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.

Outside of Blanc (and a few consistent Johnson players), another aspect which connects Glass Onion into the larger Knives Out world is the score from returning composer Nathan Johnson. This is a different setting and, interestingly, an overall lighter film with more overt humor, yet Nathan finds ways to insert motifs present in the Knives Out score here. It’s not just a flourish or two at random moments, it’s solid portions of the score, playing at significant character moments, like a calling card connecting a shock, a mystery, or a revelation from one film to another. This new score, like the previous, also beautifully supports the action and character-driven tension of Glass Onion without losing any sense of weight or intensity. In short, I believe this new score to be a lovely addition to any writer’s background/inspiration music.

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Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

A word to the wise: don’t go into Glass Onion expecting another Knives Out. Expectations like those will kill the fun for you. Instead, allow yourself to experience Johnson’s new film, this new Benoit Blanc adventure, without consideration for Marta or the Thrombreys, without comparison to Chris Evan’s brilliantly horrible Ransom or the complex web of family dynamics. Glass Onion isn’t Knives Out and it doesn’t try to be. It experiments, it plays, and it’s willing to take itself just a little less seriously in part due to the characters at its center, a less serious group than the Thrombeys could ever imagine to be. Whether you’re taking this in at the theater or streaming it at home, soak up this latest adventure for what it is: a chance to see a great detective thrive amid a mystery whose answers are right before you.

One week only theatrical sneak preview starting on November 23rd, 2022.
Available on Netflix December 23rd, 2022.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.

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Categories: In Theaters, Reviews, streaming

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