Immediately leaving Glass Onion, I turned to a friend and said, “That movie had layers.” And believe it or not, I didn’t even realize the pun until the words slipped out. And I love puns. But with the sequel to Knives Out, Rian Johnson crafts puzzle upon puzzle to keep audiences guessing. Like the first film, Glass Onion subverts expectations, this time on the nature of the inciting mystery at the film’s core. Why settle for a murder mystery when you can have all kinds of mysteries wrapped around each other?
In the first film, the murder occurs in the first few minutes. In Glass Onion, the murder doesn’t happen until around a third of the way into the movie. At first, I worried. Would the cleverly satirical film prove too satirical for its own good? No, it takes time to lay a lot of track for the various directions and misdirections this mystery ride will take us later.
The first section of the film introduces audiences to its cavalier characters: a governor up for re-election (Kathryn Hahn), a corporate scientist (Leslie Odom Jr.), a controversial fashion mogul (Kate Hudson), and her damage-control assistant (Jessica Henwick), an aggressive Twitch streamer (Dave Bautista) and his tagalong girlfriend (Madelyn Cline), and a jaded former entrepreneur (Janelle Monáe), all bound together by an invitation from a billionaire social media mogul (Edward Norton). And, of course, we have returning detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), introduced here eccentrically playing Among Us with an even more eccentric cast of celebrity cameos.
The film delights in its cameos, teasing them out cleverly and hilariously throughout. And the primary cast certainly has their fun, if not more of it. Johnson knows how to get delightful performances out of his supporting players. The actors genuinely appear to have a blast playing this entitled and oftentimes cringe-worthy group of people who presciently seem more relevant than ever in light of recent real-life issues of the elite. Trading Bond for Blanc, Daniel Craig eases into the more lighthearted role. Evidence comes from his commitment to a clever physical comedy bit with the equally game Janelle Monáe. But while the Glass Onion makes time for its humor, it may leave some waiting for the mystery.
The film’s first mystery is: what’s the mystery? As I said, murder doesn’t occur for a good portion, and while it could’ve come a little sooner, I felt torn since it would’ve meant less time with a cast member having a good time in their over-the-top role. But once that murder arrives, Glass Onion shatters the mold fast. Naturally, I won’t spoil anything, but that murder isn’t even the most intriguing mystery yet. Or even the second most intriguing. Or arguably the third.
No, once Glass Onion starts peeling those layers, it starts peeling them fast. More information about these shifty characters comes to light just as new dilemmas present themselves. Just like in Knives Out, Benoit Blanc fills the role of the detective solving crimes, but this isn’t his story. At the core of Glass Onion is a tale about betrayal and exploitation and the people who destroy what they love to get ahead. Setting a tone for the series, the Knives Out mysteries tell stories of people getting what they deserve just as much as they present secrets for uncovering.
Of course, the best noir and detective films have always done this. And Glass Onion borrows from the best. The cinematography is playful and evocative, referencing iconic shots from other works. James Bond fans will note that the film borrows more than Daniel Craig from the cinematic world of the super spy, for example. Similarly, the production design by Rick Heinrichs borrows and updates the setting of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’. Glass Onion isn’t the first whodunnit to hold a retreat on a private island. Yet, it puts its own stamp on the setting with such 21st-century dressings as a garden programmed to tell people to stop smoking and an island-wide clock chime voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And the bold and eye-catching costumes by Jenny Eagen pull off the visual sleight of hand the film employs to hide its clues.
If Knives Out brought life into the fading murder mystery genre, Glass Onion makes the case that the genre and its tropes have longevity, with more on the way. Classic mystery staples like smoking guns and red herrings occur here alongside other tricks of the trade. Yet the movie gleefully presents these, knowing that fans of the genre will recognize them and hopefully find themselves surprised or delighted by the outcomes. Two running gags in particular, suggest either a payoff or misdirection and their resolutions (fulfilling whichever purpose that may be) each prove satisfying and fitting in their own ways. Glass Onion proves as efficient and economizing as some of its wealthy characters, using every tidbit of information for a greater purpose. It is a movie that has its cake and eats it too—and tricks one into thinking that deliciously layered cake looks like an onion at first glance.
Glass Onion Review
After the success of Knives Out, would the Netflix-sponsored sequel hold up against the original? The answer is a resounding “Yes” as Johnson and his cast and crew serve up a whodunnit that is just as hilarious and clever as the first film if not more so. Glass Onion keeps the old-fashioned murder mystery alive with a narrative that presses its finger to the pulse of contemporary events.
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery