Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) Review
A WHODUNIT MYSTERY OF MIDDLING
PRESUMPTIONS AND DUMB LUCK CLEVERNESS
In 2019, the movie Knives Out was released and showcased a new spin on the classic “whodunit” mystery capper with creativity and energy found in its super sleuthing efforts. Directed by Rian Johnson, the film, which starred Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Christopher Plummer, follows master detective Benoit Blanc as he investigates into the death of renowned mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey and dealing with his dysfunctional family in the process. Premiering at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Knives Out was theatrically released in November that same year and received universal acclaim, particularly in Johnson’s directing, a sharp screenplay, and the assembled acting talent. In addition, the film grossed over $311.9 million at the box office worldwide against its $40 million budget, was listed as one of the top ten films of 2019 by both the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review, and received several nominations during the award season. Given the success that the feature was able to amass, a sequel was greenlit shortly after, with both Johnson and Craig set to be reprising their role. Now, three years after the release of Knives Out, Netflix and director Rian Johnson present the next murder mystery case of Benoit Blanc with the film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Does this latest capper adventure follow the clues to greatness or is it a sequel endeavor that doesn’t rise to challenge of its secretive sleuthing?
Renowned tech billionaire, Miles Bron (Edward Norton) is throwing a murder mystery party at his private Greek Island sanctuary, which plays home to the Glass Onion, his ornate living space for genius creative thinking. He’s invited his longtime friends, known as the “Disruptors”, to join the gathering, including politician Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), web streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), scientist mind Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), Miles’s former business partner, arriving for reunion weekend in paradise. Also joining this band of successful upstarts is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a master super sleuth detective who received an invitation from an unknown source, asked to participate in the game of “whodunit” where Miles has made himself the victim of said game. While gang exchanges stories of the past and of their future prospects, it doesn’t take long for disaster to strike, with one of the Miles’s Disruptors murdered during the evening, putting Blanc on the case to figure out what’s going on and the motive behind it all.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
While not my usual favorite movie genre, I do love a good mystery story, especially with one that is piece together in a way that makes narrative’s climatic ending come together. For Knives Out, since it was only several years ago, I can say that I did enjoy the film. Granted, I was definitely intrigued by the film’s cast, but I was a little bit leery about this particular murder mystery project, especially since director Rian Johnson was helming the film and was a still a bit conflicted about his style after seeing his interpretation of a Star Wars movie in The Last Jedi. That being said, I was quite surprised how much I actually did like Knives Out. It was definitely quite the different take on the classic murder mystery genre by taking such a narrative and putting a new twist on a old story. I also thought that the writing for the movie was quite sharp and did leave a lot of witty and poignant meaning throughout the film’s script as well in the character dialogue moments. Then, of course, the cast for the movie was truly fantastic and I thought that everyone did a great job in their respective character roles. This is especially true to Daniel Craig’s performance as the southern American master detective of Benoit Blanc, who is quite humorous in the role and is a bit of departure from the more stoic and no-nonsense portrayal as James Bond. All in all, I think Knives Out was sort of a “breath of fresh air” for moviegoers, who were looking for a “return to basic” in murder mystery cappers instead of convoluted and nonsensical crime solving.
This brings me around to talking about Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a 2022 murder mystery drama and the follow-up sequel to 2019’s Knives Out film. As stated in my opening paragraph, a sequel to Knives Out was immediately greenlit following the movie’s release, especially after a lot of “word of mouth” and big box office numbers, which got me interested to see what I was going to be in store for Benoit Blanc. What is going to be a new mystery? Would other characters from the first movie appear in the new movie? How could it top the first one? All of these questions were in my mind as I (along with everyone else) slowly got a few snippets and info on the upcoming sequel, with director Rian Johnson returning to helm the project as well as Daniel Craig reprising his role as Blanc. I then remember reading online that the movie was sold Netflix, which meant that the sequel would appear on the popular streaming service instead of seeing a theatrical run at the theaters; a bit of a odd decision, but one I can imagine happening, especially with streaming services becoming more and more popular. After that, I remember seeing the film’s trailer and it looked like it was going to be another fun feature to watch, especially with the recognizable / familiar cast assembled as well as another presumably clever murder mystery that only Johnson could concoct. Thus, I was quite interested in seeing Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery when it was scheduled to be released December 23rd, 2023. Netflix did schedule a limited week long theatrical engagement in theaters that I really wanted to see, especially since I saw the first Knives Out in theaters, but it was during Thanksgiving weekend and I wasn’t able to catch it then. So, I had to wait until Christmas 2022, which I did check out during the holiday season (sometime after Christmas). Unfortunately, I fell behind on the last several 2022 movies that had come out during that time, so I kept pushing my review back for this film. Now, as this is to be my final movie review for the 2022 theatrical release, I am finally ready to share what I thought of this follow-up sequel. And what did I think of it? Well, it’s just okay and a bit of a step backward in my opinion. Despite a lot of hype and “word of mouth” over advance reviews of the project, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is an entertaining, yet uneven sequel to 2019’s Knives Out, with the production to challenge for another classic roundabout of the “whodunit” variety, but lacks focus and precision that the first one was able to achieve. It’s not completely terrible, but the feature’s aims are, much like what Craig’s Blanc says in the film, are “just dumb”.
As mentioned, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is directed by Rian Johnson, whose previous directorial works include the previous Knives Out film as well as Looper and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Given his familiarity of helming the previous film of the particular whodunit murder mystery capper, Johnson seems like the most suitable choice to continue further in this Knives Out endeavor, with the director settling into the same type of intrigue and cleverness that made the first one entertaining. To that end, Johnson does certainly succeed and demonstrates his overall familiarity with his vision of what a ”whodunit” mystery would be by emulating another installment of crime solving and putting piece together. It’s definitely not the best of what the director has to offer (more on that below), yet it sort of pleasing to see another turn in this franchise series, especially as a sort of Agatha Christie-esque presentation for a newer and modern audience of moviegoers. The first act of the feature is probably the best part of the entire endeavor, with Johnson displaying an air of mystery and shrouding several key elements by creating an alluring fashion towards the main plot of the feature, including Miles Bron, his Disruptors group, the presence of Miles’s ex-business partner, and the whole puzzle solving box scene (something that I like), and (of course) the invitation of Benoit Blanc to this particular gathering. This indeed makes the movie have a sort of “fish out of water” viewpoint as we (the viewers), like Blanc, are introduced to this close relationships of these individuals (i.e. friends of Miles Bron) and the renowned detective is caught off guard during such initial meetings. Johnson then begins to fill in the gaps of such the various characters that, while are more broad than the other characters from the first one, still offers intrigue and misdirection towards the building of such events that capitalize on the “whodunit” premise. In addition, Johnson doesn’t make this sequel a “carbon copy” of what he achieved before, yet he still makes the movie have its own signature style of key points of the overall culprit of the feature and the entanglement of such web of lies and deceit. So, at the very least, the movie does it’s own thing (to a degree), but still manages to have a flair an updated murder mystery vibe. Overall, while not the greatest film piece in Johnson’s catalogue of work, Glass Onion still finds some enjoyment and entertainment in the director’s interpretation of the classic “whodunit” variety by offering a furthered continuation of Benoit Blanc’s mystery solving of suspicious individuals and clue finding / solving.
Within its presentation, Glass Onion looks right up the same alley that Knives Out was able to present, with a visual flair and style that speaks to the director’s influences and (again) has the reminiscent feeling of a “whodunit” project. Naturally, the entire island of Miles Bron calls home is a very luxurious paradise of opulence and grandeur (something befitting a business tycoon’s pompous bravado and mindset), with a special interest towards the physical Glass Onion structure, which (to me) is quite a unique set pieces. Even some of the nuances and motifs of the feature’s setting helps build upon the feature’s story (narratively speaking) as well as creating a visual style unto itself. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Rick Heinrich (production design), Liz Flood and Elli Griff (set decorations), Jenny Egan (costume design), the entire hair / makeup team, and the entire art direction department for the efforts in making the film’s visual background setting come alive in a very stylish and dramatic way. Additionally, cinematographer Steve Yedlin, past collaborator with Johnson, returns to lend the director a hand for this feature and certainly does have a good premise throughout. The same type of dynamic camera angles and usage of shadowing and lightning helps illuminate the feature’s setting and generates the same type of “whodunit” air of mystery in the cinematic arena, which works well with Yedlin’s efforts. Lastly, Nathan Johnson, Knives Out composer and previous collaborator with Johnson (as well as his cousin) composed the music for Glass Onion, which does help bolster most of the scenes throughout the movie, which befits the murder mystery vibe from the last one. However, there are some compositions in the picture that feels (tonally) wonky when you hear them, especially during the more climatic portion of the third act.
Unfortunately, Glass Onion isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be, with several glaring problems that permeates the feature (throughout its entirety) that holds the movie back from overtaking (or outmatching) the first Knives Out feature. How So? Well, for starters, the movie isn’t as well-thought out as previous installment. Naturally, Johnson’s work is clearly visible throughout the Glass Onion and definitely has the bravado that he wanted to project in this sequel. That being said, like all sequel endeavors, Johnson’s ambitions overextends itself by trying to go “bigger” and in this movie’s case more “clever” within its murder mystery storytelling. Rather than letting us (the viewers) follow the clues in keeping up with the puzzle solving super sleuthing, Johnson stays one step ahead of the narrative, masterminding everything in a way that keeps the viewers in the fog and then explain way too much in the middle portion of the feature, revealing more that was gleaned in the first act. It’s definitely a somewhat proven method of storytelling, especially more complexed ones, but Johnson doesn’t really have a good talent for such acts. Well, he might have achieved such nuances in the first Knives Out production, but not so much in Glass Onion, which isn’t as focused or clever enough, despite the feature desperately wanting to be quite acutely aware of its own cleverness.
Sadly, the cleverness isn’t there and what is left with is sort of a slog through character motivations that are (surprisingly) generic and weak. The narrative could’ve easily added more substance, including those various motives behind Miles’s “Disruptors” group. Perhaps the greatest disservice to the film is how Johnson lacks that intended focus to the narrative and to the directing at hand. Again, going back to the cleverness that he tries to utilize in Glass Onion, the winning formula that first picture was able to convey isn’t there, with the follow-up sequel diluting what could’ve been a more sharper knife to his “whodunit” franchise series. In truth, crackerjack puzzle solving that appears in the beginning of the movie got me excited and intrigue, with a setup that seems quite ingenious and setting the stage for more potential genius of super sleuthing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, with Johnson take more of a streamlined approach and, while the story sort makes that point across in the true “mastermind” of the plot, it doesn’t feel as fiery explosive or creatively sharp done this go-around. This, of course, makes Glass Onion the weaker film, which is disappointing, especially since the potential is there.
Lastly, I have to talk about the film’s climatic ending piece in the feature’s third act. What’s bad about it? Well, it’s not so much what happens, but rather on how it is all executed. Naturally, big revelations are unearthed and “mystery” is unmasked, yet it feels rather clunky on how it is all handled. This is especially when certain characters sort of come to that particular euphony on such “unmasked” truths and their motivations come off as somewhat silly and a tad redundant. This is felt in both the script handling and in the movie’s direction. From a script standpoint, it comes off as wooden and a bit odd in how the narrative draws to that particular conclusion, while the direction of Glass Onion comes under scrutiny in how its executed in the film, which (again) feels confusing and almost a little unsatisfying. I mean, the ending for Knives Out was great and felt like a good culmination of the narrative. For Glass Onion, however, such aspiration don’t really come to fruition, which (basically) implodes unto itself….and that’s disappointing.
Much the previous film, Glass Onion has largely recognizable cast, with familiar acting talents involved on this project to help bring Johnson’s murder mystery character to life throughout the proceedings. Some do shine and work well within the context of the mystery picture of the whodunit endeavor, while there are others that are just flat characters and only make an impact on the narrative by solely on the screen presence of the talent who plays them, which (in a lot of cases) isn’t a good thing. Leading the charge in the movie (and is still best part of the Knives Out projects) is actor Daniel Craig, who returns to reprise his character role of super sleuth detective Benoit Blanc. Craig, who is known for his roles in No Time to Die, Logan Lucky, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has always been solid actor in playing the dramatic roles or even action lead characters (as seen in his James Bond portrayal). So, it was sort of “unconventional” to see Craig play such a character as Blanc, a southern private detective whose quirky perspectives of mystery solving makes him as genius mastermind of solving cases, and actually culminating in a very memorable performance. Thus, it was great to see that Craig hadn’t loss his step as Blanc, with his return in Glass Onion still very much a treat and a delight to watch whenever he’s on-screen. Craig’s portrayal of Balance is a welcomed sight in the movie and it’s still quite humorous to behold, especially since he usually plays the more stoic and action man lead hero character in some of his more well-known performances. The quirky dialogue conversations, the southern drawl to his voice, and the way he carries a scene (be it monologuing or interacting with other characters), Craig is the true star in the feature and, while the movie itself is a bit lopsided and there isn’t much so-called “character growth” for Blanc, he’s still quite entertaining throughout and a fun role for the actor to toil around. Plus, as a sidenote, Craig’s Blanc has one of the best lines of the movie. What is it? You’ll have to watch the movie and find out.
In more secondary roles, actor Edward Norton and actress Janelle Monae turn some fine performance in the movie as business mogul tycoon Miles Bron and Andi Brand, Mile’s ex-business partner. Norton, who is known for his roles in Fight Club, Primal Fear, and American History X, has always been quite the skilled and adept actor who has cultivated a celebrated career of character roles throughout his career. While his performance in Glass Onion isn’t quite the best of his career, Norton is still a treat to watch in the movie, with his acting being on-par to his magnetic cast. Naturally, the character of Miles Bron, an egotistical man who boasts of his technology and accomplish that have influence most of the tech world, definitely makes for an unmistakable illusion to real-world tech guru mogul Elon Musk and creates a very convincing bad guy antagonist for the feature. The smug tone, the condescending behavior, and the arrogance of his ego fallacy is all there and well-represented, especially since that’s what the film’s script calls for, and Norton layers that portrayal with that smarmy attitude and (as I said) works well for the feature. Of the two, I would say that actress Monae, who is known for her roles in Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Antebellum, has the most screen time and delivers a very interesting character role in Andi Brand, a peculiar individual who holds a lot of mystery in the beginning the film and slows unfolds her backstory as the narrative progresses forward. Clearly, Johnson wanted to utilize Monae’s acting presence and it’s crystal clear that she works wonders in the feature. I won’t spoil it as much, for it is part of the mystery that Glass Onion has to offer its viewers. Suffice to say, I felt that Monae, beyond Craig’s Blanc, gets the most to do in Glass Onion and acts as the one of the more memorable characters in the feature than her other fellow cast members.
Sadly, the other remaining “disruptors” characters, including actress Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms and WandaVision) as politician elect Claire Debella, actor Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy and Knock at the Cabin) as video game streamer / activist influencer Duke Cody, actor Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton and Harriet) as the head scientist for Mile’s company Lionel Toussaint, and actress Kate Hudson (Almost Famous and Fool’s Gold) as sybaritic and politically incorrect former supermodel turned fashion designer Birdie Jay, are woefully bland, despite the acting talent involved that plays them. What’s wrong with them? Well, it’s just that the character themselves are that quite interesting, which is strange because (on paper) and on their initial setup they kind of are. Unfortunately, they are written in such bland and clunky manner that doesn’t help elevate their respective characters enough to make an impact, with most (if not all) in this grouping end up like classic “potential” murders through their motivations and machinations of Miles’s wealth and business practices. I do like the actors and actresses who play these characters, but not even their screen presence helps elevate their characters, which are more stock-like constructs in a whodunit rather than fleshed out ones….which is quite disappointing.
Round out the remaining cast, includes actress Jessica Henwick (The Matrix Resurrections and Love and Monsters) as Birdie’s assistant Peg, actress Madelyn (Outer Banks and Boy Erased) as Duke’s girlfriend Whiskey, and actor Noah Segan (You Must Remember This and Blood Relatives) as vagrant slacker who lives on Mile’s island named Derol, are delegated to minor supporting players in the feature. These characters are limited (by design), but do offer up some character built moments for the other supporting characters in the feature or just for comedic distraction. Lastly, the film also incorporates several cameo-like appearances by some familiar / recognizable acting talents that are scattered throughout the movie. I won’t spoil it as to who they are and what role they play, but it was kind of amusing to see them in the picture….even if it was only for a brief moment.
Mysteriously invited to remote island with group of “Disruptors” successful friends and tycoon business mogul, renowned detective Benoit Blanc in the movie Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Director Rian Johnson latest film returns to what he previously established back in 2019 and runs with it, taking the classic “whodunit” murder mystery capper plot and spin it on a new direction, with the newest iteration finding more turns and twists to scratch our heads over. While the confidence is there in his direction, a solid production quality / presentation and an assemblage of a stellar cast, including the loveable characterization of Benoit Blanc in Daniel Craig’s portrayal, the movie does falter in trying to take the premise to new level, especially with a somewhat flimsy script, not enough mystery solving, and several flat characters. Personally, I felt that this movie was just okay, but nowhere near as great as the first film was. Yes, it had its moments of cleverness as it the certainly turns its head upon the classic “whodunit” angle again, but the movie tries to too witty and self-aware that it comes at the expense of several aspects. Plus, as mentioned, I felt that the characters were a bit underwhelming, despite the recognizable cast involved. Overall I felt that the first Knives Out movie was better than Glass Onion. That being said, the movie is still worth a watch, which makes my recommendation for the feature a somewhat “iffy choice”, for it doesn’t have the same staying power as the first Knives Out feature, but still has some fun and entertainment for its viewing distraction one night. One just might have to lower their expectations. Naturally, the room for a possible sequel still left for another self-contained tale for Blanc’s mystery solving, but let’s just hope that it is a bit better than this one (just need to be tweaked). In the end, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery has it fair share of mischief and duplicity amongst the genre as Johnson plenty of distraction throughout the story, yet the focus is mishandles for a mostly enjoyable (yet wonkily flat) crime solving detective yarn for Blanc to solve.
3.4 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: December 23rd, 2023
Reviewed On: March 31st, 2023
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is 139 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for strong language, some violence, sexual material, and drug content