Directed by: Rian Johnson
Distributed by: Netflix
Written by Anna Harrison
If there is an antithesis to James Bond, it’s Benoit Blanc. He prefers a hard kombucha to a martini, has a live-in boyfriend instead of a string of women, and broods a lot less, so it’s no surprise that Daniel Craig gravitated towards a role like Detective Blanc after he hung up 007’s suit. 2019’s “Knives Out” proved that miracles still happen at the movie theater: it was a mid-sized original movie, with no connection to anything superhero (save a supporting role for Chris Evans) or any known brands, but it worked like gangbusters, haters of Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” be damned (also, you’re wrong if you’re a hater). The sequel rights were snatched up by Netflix for a tidy sum of $469 million; luckily for us lowlifes, the benevolent Netflix in all its wisdom has seen fit to release the first of many sequels for “Knives Out,” this one being dubbed “Glass Onion” (or “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” to use its Christian name), in theaters for a week. This, in my humble opinion, is an absolutely horseshit idea and reverses all the miracle-working the first movie did, but this isn’t a review for Netflix, it’s a review for “Glass Onion.”
Just as you cannot escape the fact that “Knives Out” was released in 2019, “Glass Onion,” set in 2020, is a product of its time. We open with Benoit Blanc holed up and depressed due to quarantine boredom which even Among Us games over Zoom with Stephen Sondheim and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar cannot alleviate; when he gets the call to join tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) at his private Greek island for a murder mystery birthday party, Blanc jumps at the chance. As the guests arrive, their masks—or lack thereof—let you know who everyone is before they open their mouths: Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), a scientist at Miles’s company, has his mask on correctly, but politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn) keeps letting it slip down her nose; Birdie (Kate Hudson, a standout), a celebrity whose questionable Halloween costume choices have left her on the public’s bad side, wears a completely ineffective mesh mask à la Lana del Rey, though her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) wears her properly; Duke (Dave Bautista), a Twitch streamer who likes to bemoan the death of American masculinity—think the Liver King—and his young girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), don’t wear masks at all. It’s Johnson’s attention to the little things like this that make “Glass Onion” so hyperspecific to 2020, and if Johnson didn’t get the details like this right, the whole thing would fall apart.
It’s all smiles amongst the “Disruptors,” as they have dubbed themselves, until Miles’s estranged business partner, Andi (Janelle Monáe), arrives on the island, after which things take a turn for the sinister. After all, we’re here for a murder mystery, aren’t we? But like its titular onion, there are layers to unpack here. Just as we are beginning to get comfortable and think that perhaps Johnson has lost a bit of the panache he had a few years ago, the rug gets pulled out from underneath us. This twist recontextualizes everything, and while it is what makes “Glass Onion” so juicy, it also means that a good portion of the movie dedicates itself to showing past events the audience wasn’t initially privy to; this gamble works because of a game cast (especially Craig and Monáe), but is by nature laborious—we take a pause halfway through the movie to rewatch what we’ve already seen, just from different perspectives. Without it, the movie wouldn’t work, yet despite its cleverness, this twist is just a tad clunky.
It’s hard to complain too much, though, when this movie gets so many other things right. (What other film would have a hot sauce from Jeremy Renner play such an important role?) Craig is clearly having the time of his life sporting Blanc’s horrifically charming Southern drawl, and it is a delight to watch him talk circles around Miles’s supposed genius—whilst “Glass Onion” serves as a time capsule for 2020, the timing in 2022 could not be better: though Miles at one point wears Steve Jobs’s iconic black turtleneck and jeans combo, Johnson clearly took a hefty dose of inspiration from Elon Musk. As the world has been watching Musks’s vapid tech bro nonsense drive Twitter into the ground, so too do we watch Miles’s vapid tech bro nonsense drive his company into the ground. As in “Knives Out,” Johnson’s commentary gets a lot of things right while never becoming too preachy or condescending, and even if none of it is particularly subtle or nuanced, it’s too fun to get mad at. Even if “Glass Onion” doesn’t quite reach the highs of its predecessor (though perhaps I am biased, as I prefer cozy houses nestled in the trees to a beach, no matter how nice the beach is), it’s still a mystery worth solving.
I just wish it didn’t belong to Netflix.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” Trailer
You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.