Rian Johnson absolutely rules, doesn’t he folks?
Knives Out was an out-of-nowhere hit that was an absolute box office sensation, one that stood in the face of naysayers and chuckled with delight as it munched on a downhome Southern biscuit. A cozy mystery, its Agatha Christie-inspired tone felt all of comfortable and “edge-of-your-seat” all at the same time. Each piece of his puzzle was teased out for the audience until they all fell into place to reveal a gorgeous plot inside a cable-knit sweater. The success led to Netflix ponying up $400m to make two sequels, leading Johnson to the streaming service and bringing his detective lead with him. How is Benoit Blanc’s (Daniel Craig) streaming debut?
While Knives Out pitted him against the machinations of old money, generational privilege, and family politics, Glass Onion (I find it absolutely hilarious that They gave him a $200m budget and he chose that title) sets him in the company of new money that grew out of the Social Media era. Tech billionaire and owner of Alpha Industries Miles Bron (Edward Norton) has sent a puzzle to his friends. The boxes arrive, the game is afoot, and as each individual solves their box they discover an invitation to a private Greek island getaway with their rich friend. Model, social media influencer, and clothing manufacturer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson have what appears to be the time of her life) arrives on a dock with her assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick), to meet up with scientist and Alpha employee Lionel Toussant (Leslie Odom Jr.). They’re joined by Twitch star/mens’ rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), his girlfriend Whiskey (Madeline Cline), and senatorial hopeful Claire Dabella (Kathryn Hahn). They meet the only two pariahs, Benoit Blanc and former Alpha Co-owner Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe), and arrive to discover that Miles has planned a weekend long murder mystery game, but when Benoit ruins it by solving it within seconds and an actual body appears things begin to heat up and secrets begin to spring forth for the unruly and openly douchy group that has the audacity to call themselves “The Disruptors.”
Johnson has gone more openly comedic with his sequel, skewering a different type of privilege and utilizing its ridiculousness to land some stellar jokes (and also bring his buddy Noah Segan back for an incredible background joke that just keeps landing). Gone are the dreary moors of New England, the mansions and crisp attire out the window for the extravagence and sheer loud noise of those that exist incredibly online. Openly written around the COVID-19 pandemic and utilizing some of the tools it offered, Johnson holds nothing back and weaponizes the behavior of all sorts of individuals to continue his wonderful mocking of wealth and power. It’s an interesting distillation of a culture that feels more modern than his previous effort without losing any of the delightful sting. Knives Out may have been a hearty meal that was a bit heavy on the salt, but Glass Onion is more of a delicate apertif that is maybe a bit too spicy for the crowd that deems themselves bespoke enough to eat it.
Part of the wonder involved with this film is the design of Miles’s island getaway. His Glass Onion tops the commune, placing him atop the world in an office that is so clear the walls might as well not be there in the first place. Set designer John McHugh has done a stellar job creating an environment that matches what a normal person would think a tech billionaire would set up for themselves, right down the the roadster on a lazy Susan at the pinnacle that serves no purpose other than to be seen. It’s all performative, matching the energy Miles Bron wants to bring to his murder mystery game and serving as a send-up of a lifestyle that sadly isn’t all that far off from reality. Costume designer Jenny Eagen (who clearly had the most fun with Kate Hudson and Dauve Bautista) has created a whole new look for this follow-up, swapping all suits and sweaters for swimwear and linens (and a gun that openly serves as a replacement for one character’s manhood). Everything looks gorgeous an everything is as empty as the glass onion for which the film is named.
This leads to some of my issues with the film. Knives Out was a banger, pretty much flawless and wildly entertaining while still making a statement. It felt naturalistic and lacked a performative tone, holding worldclass detective character Benoit Blanc in the wings and letting the rest of the cast take center stage. The mystery was the main character of the film, led by Ana de Armas’s charming young character, whereas Glass Onion is almost wholly centered on Blanc. The tone is decidedly more jokey and the central mystery is lacking the added layer of complexity that its predecessor was able to smack audiences with. This is a decidedly different film and I hope he keeps this up, changing tone and setting and character types with each new entry, but Johnson’s second Benoit Blanc mystery is a slight step down even if it still serves up pure entertainment.
Nathan Johnson has returned to score the film (Rian Johnson is building a bit of a troupe when it comes to his behind-the-scenes crew, isn’t he?) and he’s delivered another knockout album. Like the film he’s ditched some of the purposefully gothic and dreary tones for something lighter, grander, and more whimsical. If Knives Out were a traditional ballroom dance then Glass Onion serves more as a twerk-n-work tune that’s self-aware to know how silly it’s being and I love it.
While it may be slightly lesser than its predecessor, Glass Onion as a dazzling time and looks absolutely incredible on the big screen. Most of you will wait until it drops on Netflix, but if you have the time and the motivation I urge you to see it during its “sneak preview” week in theatres. I had a blast and I think you will as well.
Glass Onion will remain in theatres until November 29th and will be released on Netflix December 23rd.