MOVIE REVIEW — Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (PFF31)
Rian Johnson & Daniel Craig Return For Another Off-The-Wall, Murder Mystery That Surpasses Its Predecessor — ★★★★½
In following up on his first outing in this mysterious, zany murder-mystery world, Rian Johnson somehow excels at not only matching the quality of Knives Out, but in many ways, surpassing it. Bolstered by yet another outstanding and enigmatic ensemble, featuring actors from all walks of life, ranging from stars of the 2000’s with Edward Norton and Kate Hudson, to rising stars in the form of Jessica Henwick, Leslie Odom Jr., and Madelyn Cline (a new favorite after this), to superpowered beings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Dave Bautista and Kathryn Hahn, Glass Onion is not only a testament to Johnson’s directorial prowess, but also to the ability of each of the stars of both Knives Out and Glass Onion.
This of course leaves out two key figures for this sequel to Johnson’s 2019 hit, those being Daniel Craig as the returning world famous detective, Benoit Blanc, and musical sensation Janelle Monae once again gracing the silver screen. At its core, Glass Onion (and its predecessor) do not succeed without Craig’s goofy, often-fumbling, but sometimes astute southern investigator. While both outings would still offer delightful ensembles for the audience to chew on, it is Craig’s surprisingly hilarious turn as Benoit Blanc that brings everything together. As it was in 2019, as soon as he hits the screen in Glass Onion, Craig steals scenes and eats through every bit of dialogue Johnson has written with glee. Possibly a surprise to some not-so-familiar with her talents, Monae walks out of Glass Onion in similar fashion, delivering a performance that not only brings together the entire creative piece as a whole, but also manages to deliver one of the great performances of the year.
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For those looking for a quick review: IT IS A GREAT MOVIE AND YOU SHOULD WATCH IT, PREFERABLLY WITHOUT ANY SPOILERS. I will be talking light spoilers throughout, and will attempt to be vague in regard to the actual plot throughout this review. You have been warned. I promise to not reveal the killer(s) or anyone killed during the course of the film. Read ahead at your own risk, or save this and come back after you’ve seen to read my thoughts on the film. Enjoy the review!
Okay so normally this would be where we get your standard plot synopsis for the review, BUT, as I stated, I really do not want to say much with regard to that because I find it to be a movie worth seeing with little to nothing known. For example, I went into this screening having only seen the trailer for the film once, months ago. Having no preconceptions about characters or connections, it just made for a great time and I recommend it. Giving the littlest away possible however…
Glass Onion begins with a mysterious invitation to a weekend getaway on the private island of Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Inviting only his closest friends for a themed Murder Mystery party, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) also receives an invitation to the event in order to fill the role of the detective. Rounding out the esteemed guest list are a number of Bron’s closest friends, lovers, and business partners, including Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), Miles’ former business partner, Senator Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), and her assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick), somewhat alt-right YouTube and former Twitch star, Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), Duke’s girlfriend. With a pre-written plot, after some rest and relaxation, Bron’s Murder Mystery party begins… with a deadly twist!
Backed by an enormous deal with Netflix, Glass Onion is not only a massive deal for Johnson as a filmmaker, but is significantly larger in terms of its scale that the original murder mystery from the director of The Last Jedi. Filled with yet another huge cast, and some truly great cameos (and bittersweet ones with surprising appearances from the late Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim, the latter of whom Johnson noted during a post-screening Q&A was an inspiration for Glass Onion through his writing on The Last of Sheila), and a surprising amount of VFX, Glass Onion is an undeniably bigger film than Knives Out. While some might lament that, in the age of reboots, remakes, and adaptations, it feels very, very deserved that one of the most talented filmmakers alive is in the midst of creating a brand new, original anthology franchise with everyone seemingly wanting to jump aboard. It shows in the filmmaking as well, with noted “Hollywood dick”, Edward Norton, appearing to genuinely be enjoying himself in the role. Regardless of opinions on Johnson or any specific actor, Glass Onion is not only an exciting time at the movies, but also is an example of how great a piece of film can be when everyone involved is genuinely loving their time working together.
And speaking of the aforementioned Ed Norton, the former Hulk offers a return to form here in the role of Miles Bron, a successful tech guru and leader of “The Disruptors”. Getting chance to deliver an over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance that sometimes rivals Craig’s own work as Blanc (especially in the latter half of the movie), Norton feels rejuvenated in his acting energy in a way that he hasn’t for years. While Norton may not get the chance to play Among Us with the likes of Natasha Lyonne, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, or the late greats, Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim (absolutely wild, I know), he does bring such an arrogant, brash, genuinely dumb energy into the role that he really does stand out in a good way. Similarly, Kate Hudson is a name that offers even more in the latter department, playing possibly one of the dumbest characters in a major motion picture in recent memory, and in a great way. Delivering some of the most embarrassingly comedic lines of the film, from sharing that she did a Blackface “tribute” to Beyonce to believing that a sweat shop was literally a workshop for sweatpants, Hudson breathes life into Birdie Jay with her and Norton providing matching Bimbo and Himbo energy throughout.
There is something about seeing Batista go from WWE to the Guardians of the Galaxy, to actively pushing for a live-action adaptation of Gears of War, to playing a small, subtle, quiet role in Blade Runner 2049, to a murderous beast of a man in Dune, before landing in the sequel to Knives Out where he plays a conservative nut-job Youtuber that brings a smile to my face. Genuinely, ignoring my wrestling fandom for a moment, he has killed it in each of his major roles since becoming Drax, and has shown a range that neither John Cena or Dwayne Johnson have. Dave Bautista is one of the most interesting actors working today, and I’m tired of acting like he isn’t! Tied to him in Glass Onion, is Madelyn Cline, the only person in the cast I had no prior knowledge of before hand. Starring in Netflix’s Outer Banks, it seems likely that this could be a major launching pad for her, and deservedly so. Playing the more-than-meets-the-eye girlfriend of Bautista’s Duke, Cline slides in and out of scenes, bringing both a nuanced energy in a quiet, revealing scene between her and Monae, as well as a crazy, chaotic performance elsewhere. I came out of this liking her quite a bit, even if I’m never going to watch the Outer Banks. Hahn and Odom Jr. offer much more subdued performances than expected, but they’re great as always, and it was delightful hearing the former Hamilton star speak so much throughout as he has a very calming voice. Lastly, Jessica Henwick! My goodness, as a defender of Netflix’s Iron Fist series (at least the second season), it has brought me great joy to see Jessica Henwick finally breaking out. Undeniably the greatest asset to Iron Fist, she has delivered back-to-back great, different performances in both The Matrix: Resurrections and now Glass Onion, as Birdie’s self-esteem-lacking assistant Peg. She’s great. The whole cast is great. Glass Onion is great.
Delivering on the promise of being a grandiose murder mystery, set in the lavish Greek islands, Glass Onion brings the murder and the mystery to the table in a somewhat brand-new way. Lacking any real “jokes”, the film’s comedy, like much of what made Knives Out feel so special, comes from the strong writing behind the plot, with situational comedy rather than joke-cracking throughout. The sequel also offers some bolder filmmaking choices, with its bigger scope and a strong commitment to an elongated flashback segment that adds quite a bit in terms of recontextualizing the rest of the film. It is through its strong writing and direction from Johnson, that even after subverting expectations (ooh, I said the thing) and playing with audience trust in Knives Out, that the director manages to tow the same line throughout its follow-up film, and expertly so. Leaving enough clues throughout, Glass Onion is yet another homerun for the Murder Mystery genre and a step above Knives Out, an already iconic, great film from Johnson.
While it does borrow from its first outing, mainly in its portrayal of Benoit Blanc as a character, even he gets a fresh coat of paint with lore drip-fed to the audience throughout, something I was actually hoping for. Learning even just the slightest more about Craig’s detective was a joy, especially with it tied to a number of the film’s cameos, which are used to great effect. In only giving this tiny bit of new information about Blanc, it makes the character even easier to gravitate towards while still allowing Monae to portray a similarly vulnerable, yet strong female protagonist, with Brand being the star of the show this time around. As Ana De Armas gave a breakout lead role in Knives Out, Monae continued that trend into Glass Onion, delivering a charismatic, powerhouse performance as the female lead of the film. Should one choose a negative about Glass Onion, it would likely stem from some of the ensemble feeling less-explained than they deserved, with more intrigue following Whiskey, Claire, and Peg, at least for me, despite not getting nearly as much as the other characters. Still, they fit their roles here and without them, the film doesn’t work so maybe I’ll leave it to the expert.
By the time the credits roll, Glass Onion not only leaves you with a smile on your face and tears streaming down your face from laughing for nearly two and a half hours, but it also delivers an ending that feels satisfying in nearly every possible way. Thanks to impeccable performances from both Craig and Monae, the final moments of the film play out as one of the most satisfying closings of the year. From meaningful payoffs, to Nathan Johnson’s beautiful score (seriously, the worst part about seeing this now is that I will be waiting for another two months before I can listen to this score), the film ties itself with a neat bow as Benoit Blanc looks onto his next horizon. While some eyes may roll at the explosiveness of Glass Onion, it succeeds in nearly every move it makes, with clever writing, witty and layered dialogue, and a cast of characters even more vibrant than those that came before it. Johnson may still have his detractors after releasing his version of a story in a Galaxy Far, Far Away (one of the best Star Wars films, shoot me), but it is hard to deny that the man makes great mystery films and always has, dating back to both Brick and The Brothers Bloom. With a third entry already set in stone for Benoit Blanc, one can only wonder what comes next for Craig’s mild-mannered southern detective, but can also rest assured that when the time comes, Johnson & co. will deliver yet again.
I implore you as my final offering following this screening; if you have the chance to see Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in theaters this Fall (playing for one week in select theaters across the country), do yourself a favor and seek it out. Seeing this on the big screen was so delightful, and I hope it paves a way for directors at Netflix to get the chance to see their films on the big screen.
Rating — ★★★★½
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, directed by Rian Johnson and distributed by Netflix, will be released in select AMC and Regal Movie Theaters on November 23, 2022 (for one week), and will be released on Netflix to stream on December 23, 2022.
A special thanks to the Philadelphia Film Society, The Philadelphia Film Festival, Rian Johnson, and Netflix for this special screening at the Philadelphia Film Center as a part of this year’s festival lineup.
Thanks for reading! I will have a bit more coverage for the ongoing Philly Film Festival over the coming week, with reviews for The Whale, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, and a retro review for Sorcerer, so keep your eyes peeled! For those that enjoyed this piece and want a bit more from me… please consider following me for more in the future! On top of covering a bit of the Philadelphia Film Festival, and dropping a bunch of Halloween/Horror content so far this Fall, there are going to be lots to talk about with a number of major releases including The Fabelmans, Ticket To Paradise, Black Adam, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Avatar: The Way Of Water, and so, so much more, so be sure to subscribe for more!
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