January 2, 2023
With Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, filmmaker Rian Johnson brings back detective Benoit Blanc (and with him, Daniel Craig’s cartoonish Southern accent), expanding his murder mystery cinematic universe. Although cast in the mold of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or Peter Falk’s Columbo, Blanc is hampered this time by a haphazard story.
There is a scene toward the end of the film in which Detective Blanc, after divulging the motive and method behind the mystery, exclaims, “It’s just dumb.” It isn’t so dumb that it’s brilliant, like a Coen brothers’ comedy; it’s just plain dumb. Maybe Johnson figured Glass Onion was a farce as well.
Like its predecessor, Knives Out, Glass Onion’s screenplay borrows heavily from contemporary news and politics. Firmly dating itself as a pandemic movie, it shows Blanc brooding in the tub, grasping on to his sanity via Zoom calls. “I need danger, a hunt, a challenge,” he laments, yearning for his next case.
The new cast is a litany of different political stereotypes Johnson likely lifted from Twitter. Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) is a Joe Rogan-type podcaster who carries a firearm (even to the pool) and preaches online sermons about masculinity while peddling testosterone pills. Kate Hudson, meanwhile, plays Birdie Jay, an aloof liberal socialite from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Hosting lavish parties in her penthouse amid the COVID-19 lockdown era, she explains, “It’s fine; they’re in my podcast.” In another scene, she mistakes sweatshops for specialized factories that produce sweatpants.
All these characters are financially entangled in the web of influence cast by Miles Bron (Edward Norton), a billionaire tech mogul with more money than morals. Miles is a caricature of Elon Musk — or rather, how Johnson sees Musk. Bron is portrayed as an imbecilic pseudo-intellectual whose entire tech fortune was built on stealing an idea. It is never explained why the woman (Janelle Monae) whose multibillion-dollar idea Bron stole decided to make Bron an equal partner, allowing him to take over the entire business. As Blanc himself concedes, it’s dumb.
Bron invites his close friends for an opulent party on his private island estate, where he’s staged a murder mystery for them to solve. It isn’t until a full hour into the movie that the real mystery gets underway. It isn’t a clever twist like Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense; it’s a misdirection that makes the entire first hour feel like a waste of time.
In one early scene, as the different characters receive Bron’s elaborate party invitations in the form of multistep puzzles, the world-famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, appears in a random cameo, identifying a melody as Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor and explaining the composition’s significance. Nobody does anything relevant until over an hour in.
The biggest problem with Glass Onion is how the twist is set up. It’s difficult to explain properly without spoiling the entire premise, but in a whodunit, an audience is generally guided by the narrator, processing new events and evidence through their lens and trying to solve the puzzle. Introducing an unreliable narrator breaks this system and leaves the audience in the dark and feeling cheated. That was the outcome midway through the film.
Johnson was reportedly up in arms over Netflix’s decision to title his film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, as opposed to merely the title of the Beatles song. Johnson wanted to separate his sequel from the original as much as possible. This would have been for the best. On its own merits, Glass Onion has a scant few moments of enjoyment, occasionally buoyed by its vivid cinematography and nostalgic classic rock references. But compared to the sharpness and wit of the original Knives Out, it’s just plain dumb.
Originally Published at The Washington Examiner