Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s uproarious, dazzling Netflix sequel to Knives Out, is a triumph and tragedy; no movie this good should be confined to the cell of a streaming platform.
The out-of-nowhere whodunnit franchise is two-for-two. Knives Out, an eat-the-rich banger with one of the strongest ensembles of the past decade, was a stroke of knotty genius.
Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, with his I-say-I-say southern drawl, cigar, and donut-hole theorizing, became an instant fan favorite in a crowded echelon of clue-trawling icons, and demand for his return was just as immediate.
He should be recognized as the cinematic detective for today’s generation, despite Kenneth Branagh’s embarrassing attempts to keep the spirit of Poirot’s mustache alive. In a merciful world, Glass Onion will be the second of an indefinite streak of superior murder mysteries, while its contemporary flounders in enough champagne to fill the Nile.
Glass Onion: The game is afoot in paradise
In the spirit of Agatha Christie’s novels, Glass Onion is a standalone Benoit Blanc mystery. He finds himself on a dreamy Greek island owned by Miles Bron, a barefoot billionaire leaking quasi-revolutionary ideas like “A.I. in dogs = discourse” and “child = NFT.”
He’s in the company of his league of “disruptors”, including: Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), a wannabe Connecticut senator; Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), one of Miles’ expert scientists; Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), a gun-toting, Whisky-drinking meninist on Twitch; Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), the dark timeline version of the star’s Almost Famous character, rendered as a “no filter” pop star dying for attention; and Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), Miles’ former partner and elephant in the room – the disruptor of the disruption.
They’ve been brought together for a weekend of luxury and fun; more specifically, solving Miles’ murder. The game is afoot, but the question is: who’s playing what, and who’s playing who?
Glass Onion is the perfect metaphor
Glass Onion, in itself, is a perfect metaphor for the film: something that appears to be densely, complexly layered, when the actual substance is always in plain sight. Johnson never rushes through the story, allowing everyone’s dynamics to sharpen in the viewers’ eyes and ears; every practiced smile, every clutched compliment, and so many hints you’ll kick yourself for not paying heed later.
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Much like Knives Out, the central mystery almost certainly defies expectations. While not quite as satisfying as its predecessor’s payoff, Glass Onion’s script is cleverer and cheekier, hopscotching in each character’s shadow as it peels back the group’s true nature. Beyond all that, it’s retained the scathing wit and upped the silliness, from Blanc saying, “It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth,” to Jeremy Renner’s own-brand hot sauce, presumably bought on his app.
There’s something to be said for Johnson’s brand of referential, pop-culture humor. Compare it to Ryan Reynolds: during his Red Notice press tour, he – correctly – observed that people name-drop movies and shows in everyday conversation, so he uses references as punchlines. However, Johnson has a knack for weaving it in – if you’re not laughing at Hudson’s Lana Del Rey mesh mask or Norton styled as Tom Cruise’s Frank Mackey from Magnolia, then what’s the point? Though, it should be said, Glass Onion is chock-full of cameos, and while almost all of them connect with a giggle, they’re little doses of dopamine for when the movie’s pacing dips.
Netflix movies have never looked as good as Glass Onion
There’s not one performance here out of tune. Some are more minor (Jessica Henwick’s role is somewhat thankless), but there are some obvious MVPs. Craig is flawless as Blanc, more comfortable than ever with his comedic chops; I could watch him strutting around a fancy room rattling off his mind-blowing deductions all day.
Hudson manages to instil an almost-extraordinary insincerity in every scene, making Birdie a deplorable, lovable foil to everything, including common sense. Monáe, with the poise and charisma of a star beyond her years, wins the movie, going toe-to-toe with everyone and never bettered.
Is this the best a Netflix movie has looked and sounded? Nathan Johnson’s score is luscious, swooning, reminiscent of John Barry’s more sweeping compositions, but increasingly energetic and jagged as the mystery develops. Steve Yedlin’s cinematography, with the gentlest of grain and framing as playful as it is gorgeous, is a standout. If you’re someone who also gets frustrated by the homogenized aesthetic of Netflix’s originals library, you’ll be pleased to know Glass Onion is another uncompromised showcase of Johnson’s singular visual flair.
Glass Onion review score: 4/5
Glass Onion’s quality isn’t a surprise – the thinking men do not bet against Rian Johnson – but it is a damn shame. As a sequel, it’s grander, glitzier, and engineered for big laughs and enriching rewatches – Netflix may have been able to pay the bills, but even with a limited theatrical release, it’s a sad loss for the big screen.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is available to stream on Netflix now.