“I assumed Miles Bron was a complicated genius. But why?”
Spoilers ahead for “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” and “Knives Out.”
2022 was chock-full of comedies infused with capitalist critiques, from Ruben Östlund’s shimmering “Triangle of Sadness” to Mark Mylod’s underwhelming “The Menu.” By far the most anticipated of the bunch was Rian Johnson’s return to the Benoit Blanc character, portrayed by Daniel Craig in “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” released via Netflix. Johnson noted upon the movie’s Netflix release that he was wary of approaching it as a sequel to the hit “Knives Out,” starring Ana de Armas and Craig among a slew of other established stars. Still, “Knives’” novel deconstruction of the murder-mystery genre lingers in the mind, especially because “Glass Onion” marches to a similar beat — albeit a more hollow one.
Johnson has a history of invoking genre with equal parts respect and sarcasm, most evident in his stunning directorial debut “Brick,” a noir film set at a high school in the early aughts, and later in “Knives Out,” in which a family breaks down in the wake of their patriarch’s murder. In “Glass Onion,” Craig is once again spectacular, as are his castmates, namely Janelle Monae (“Hidden Figures,” “Moonlight”) as twin sisters Andi and Helen and Madelyn Cline (“Outer Banks”) as influencer Whiskey. Jessica Henwick (“The Matrix Resurrections”) and Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) also turn out exciting performances but are given less material to chew on.
Similar to “The Menu,” “Glass Onion” takes shots at easy targets — a corrupt politician (Kathryn Hahn), a misogynistic Twitch streamer (Dave Bautista), and the worst-case scenario of an air-headed tech bro, a-la Elon Musk (Edward Norton). It feels good to laugh at these characters’ expense because they are caricatures, so far removed from reality that even the death of Bautista’s Duke Cody fails to intrigue. Although many of today’s wealthiest individuals appear so untouchable that they might as well be cardboard cutouts, is there anything to be gained from watching them putter around a private island for two hours?
“Glass Onion,” like its predecessor, was never intended to be a character study, but the vague friendships between our main characters fail to provide the same electric undercurrent and subtle characterization that the dysfunctional Thrombeys offered. In “Knives Out,” Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis) is monstrously privileged and largely unsympathetic, but the film efficiently explores her character through her relationship with her father and her husband’s (Don Johnson) infidelity.
Visually, “Glass Onion” astounds as it plays with lighting, and the costume designs for Blanc and Kate Hudson’s Birdie stand out in particular. The sun-drenched set is a far cry from the mountainous Victorian Gothic where the events of “Knives Out” unfolded, but the titular sculpture is a compelling set piece among the otherwise hyper-modern, bland architecture of the island, alluding to the often uninspiring aesthetics of the hyper-wealthy.
The final reveal of Norton’s Miles Bron as the murderer pays off in the moment, easy a shot as it is, but its impact wanes quickly. Chris Evans’ turn as the conniving Hugh Drysdale is comparatively more timeless, in part because Hugh is capable of concocting a scheme that’s both sinister and marginally intelligent. Bron’s plan, however, is written to be clumsy, and is thus unspun effortlessly by Blanc. Unlike the previous installment, the mystery is more mystifying to its characters than to the audience, and Johnson’s method of having Blanc spell out the answer is underwhelming.
Like “Knives Out,” a good chunk of the movie is spent on exposition, piecing together the events which led “Andi” and Blanc to the Greek island. Hints pointing towards Andi’s true identity as her twin sister Helen are cleverly placed throughout the first hour, perhaps so many that the process of explaining them gets a little tedious, and the thrill of subverting the murder-mystery format is dulled the second time around. Still, Johnson’s script is tight, witty (aside from a slight lean on kitschy cameos) and expands the lore of the “Knives Out” universe, nebulous as it is. Standouts from the script include Hugh Grant’s introduction as Blanc’s exasperated domestic partner, and of course, Chekov’s painting: Bron’s genuine, on-loan “Mona Lisa” which stands like a ticking time bomb throughout the course of the film, only to be destroyed in its final minutes, cementing Bron’s legacy.
With “Glass Onion,” Rian Johnson came back bigger than ever, if nothing else, and for all its emptiness, the film never lacks the trademark charm of Johnson’s projects, even on a sweeping Netflix budget. A third “Knives Out” installment is already on the books, with the only certainty being the return of Benoit Blanc. Hopefully, Johnson takes another swing for the fences.