It’s apropos, but bittersweet that Angela Lansbury is seen early on in Glass Onion. She of course the deductive protagonist in the murder mystery series Murder, She Wrote. Her cameo here comes in a 5-way Zoom call (including some basketball and music royalty) as detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) takes a bubble bath. It is Lansbury’s final on-screen appearance. In the scene, Blanc mentions his affliction – he has a race car mind, but the pandemic has made it so that he has nowhere to drive it. If it was ever a wonder how the likes of Hercule Poirot, Jessica Fletcher, Adrian Monk, and Nancy Drew find themselves in these situations, a major contributing factor is their need for mental stimulation. Benoit Blanc shares that characteristic, as an iconic detective from one era unofficially passes the torch to our newest eccentric sleuth – over Zoom, no less.
Fortunately for Benoit Blanc, he’s soon invited to a summertime/weekend getaway on a remote island, hosted by tech billionaire and mediocre tan wearer Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Bron has invited his closest friends, a group of elite celebrities and entrepreneurs, for a fun murder mystery weekend, in which the goal will be to solve the mystery of Miles’ “murder.” Except, Miles claims he never invited Blanc to the event, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else knows who inquired about the detective’s services. Complicating matters, Miles’ old friend Andi (Janelle Monáe) has also accepted an invite, to the shock of Miles and his vapid guests. The two aren’t on good terms, as Andi was pushed out of the company that Miles made his fortune from. One guest even remarks that the question isn’t who invited Andi, but why did she show up? DUN DUN DUN!!!
Miles’ island is a disgustingly expensive fortress of tech wizardry. Ironic, since he prefers fax machines over phones. It is decked out with obnoxious alarms, intercom announcements, and “No Smoking” alerts. But the centerpiece is a glass, oval shaped lair, the location from which the movie gets its name. It makes Bron look like a Bond villain to such an absurd degree, we wonder if director Rian Johnson is deliberately trying to divert our attention. Johnson turns such thoughts into a gag, as he designates one character to be a parody of a red herring, literally announcing to the characters (and the audience) to ignore him.
Predictably, Blanc isn’t amused by all this obscene wealth. Nor does he fancy that he’s in the presence of particularly intelligent individuals, even as they put on the veneer that their success came through cunning and hard work. Chief among them is Birdie (Kate Hudson), a ditzy fashion designer whose social media accounts should probably be suspended indefinitely. Dave Bautista gleefully portrays a Twitch streamer who builds a following by advocating for men’s rights, and railing against feminism. Kathryn Hahn is a governor whose personality is so manufactured, she barely says anything thoughtful of her own accord. And then there’s Miles’ good friend and lead scientist Lionel, who… isn’t very interesting as a character, but his purpose serves to illustrate how he hangs on Miles’ coattails. They all do, all of these so-called “friends” owe their current success and celebrity, at least partially, to Miles. Yet, their complicated histories has led Blanc to suspect one of them may be plotting to murder the arrogant billionaire. Including that suspicious Andi…
For everyone who’s seen the original Knives Out (2019), they know of Rian Johnson’s penchant for twisty plot swings and meticulously calculated subversions. Glass Onion follows in that tradition, playing with the concepts of time and perspective. Johnson loves reveals that effectively upend what story, and whose story, we’re telling. He’s also a devoted fan and student of the murder mystery genre, duplicating familiar tropes that would feel like a bad soap opera in less skillful hands. But those tropes are necessary to understand the narrative Glass Onion attempts to weave. I don’t think the results are quite as inventive or emotionally impactful as their usage in Knives Out, but the script makes great use of misdirection and stealthy foreshadowing.
However, while the story has some unpredictable elements, there are others that you’ll be able to see coming. But isn’t that part of the fun? Tallying the things you got right, and what you got wrong. There are lesser movies where the hubris of the filmmakers would belie some predictable beats. Glass Onion avoids that criticism by refusing to insult the audience’s intelligence; it feels like we’re all in this mystery together. In fact, pointing out the obvious is part of the narrative’s point. So, if you can piece together what’s going on, more power to you.
The screenplay, once again written by Johnson, is at least as funny as its predecessor. As the original skewered old money and ungrateful successors, here the target is tech bros, infuriating CEOs, and clueless influencers. They’re so up their own ass, they don’t even realize when Blanc drops some useful wisdom on their heads. Benoit tells Birdie that she shouldn’t confuse speaking without thought with speaking the truth. A flirtatious Birdie responds, “Are you calling me dangerous?” in a line no one could predict. Johnson derives great fun from mocking Miles’ inflated ego, which easily outpaces his intellect. In addition, Johnson perhaps does an even better job this time around with the framing, blocking, and shot selection. Glass Onion isn’t just fun to listen to, but it pops visually thanks to outstanding production design and athletic camera work. You’ll enjoy seeing people graciously hop into frame, one such moment occurring because a character was expertly obfuscated by a comically large hat.
That said, I wouldn’t say Glass Onion upholds it’s high batting average for the entire runtime. The conclusion is a bit messy and overwrought, choosing chaos over coherent logic. A character we’re meant to identify with makes a costly error, literally the dumbest thing you could do in that moment, betraying how smart they’ve proven to be up until that point. As the movie closes, it’s message is clear – stand up for what’s right, but the execution of this does end the film on a bit of an anticlimactic moment. Not quite the exclamation point that closed Knives Out.
Despite the flaws, Glass Onion is more than a worthy return to this world. Rian Johnson could give us ten of these, and we’ll accept so long as Daniel Craig is gracetious enough to entertain us with his lovable southerner. Kudos also to Norton, Kate Hudson, and Janelle Monáe for adding more memorable characters to this universe’s canon. Monáe in particular has a really complex role. The singer has impressed in movies before, but some of her early scenes here seemed a bit choppy – until you learn more about her motivation. It’s a strong turn that makes her one of the most exciting actors working today.
As for Benoit Blanc, the wait for his next adventure will be too long. We the audience, just like him, need the stimulation his assignments bring. What we can appreciate about his outing here, is that even this genius still has things to learn. Glass Onion is a murder mystery about the folly of riddles and convoluted motives; the answer is often right in front of you, on a silver platter. Amazing that the world’s greatest detective learned that by sitting in a bathtub, playing a game of Among Us.