A Heart of Glass
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Rian Johnson is a divisive figure among some Online. This is entirely because of Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, a film that many (of the more toxic) members of the Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. community seem to feel is an atrocity unto god and man. I actually like that film, as imperfect as it is, but it's hard to have that discussion with the more block-headed fans Online. It doesn't matter that Johnson has created many other great films, like Brick and Looper; he made The Last Jedi and is, thus, the film-making Antichrist.
I also happened to like Brick and Looper, among the various films Johnson has made. And, of course, he gained plenty of acclaim for his 2019 Agatha Christie-esque potboiler Knives Out. That film set itself up as a kind of locked room whodunit to only then twist itself into a new kind of film in its second act, and then again in its third, keeping the audience on its toes the whole time to see just what was going to happen in the mystery. Knives Out is a brilliant film, not just a solid mystery but also a great character study and a fun and funny bit of writing. It works on all fronts, and the film went on to garner $311.9 Mil against a $40 Mil budget. That's a tidy haul.
Johnson clearly has a love for the mystery genre, having not just made the teen neo-Noir Brick but also working elements of the mystery genre into his sci-fi flick Looper. He knows what he's doing when he sits down to write solid, twisty mysteries with plenty of red herrings and double-backs. It's a mastery of the form, frankly, that I don't think most writers could aspire to. Thus, when it was announced that Knives Out would get a sequel, most fans of the original film were overjoyed. Another return to Johnson's great mystery writing? Please sign me up.
The one question most had was, "how do you make a sequel to a film that clearly had a defined ending?" Knives Out tied up its central mystery within its runtime and none of the suspects would seem to lend themselves to returning. That is true. That's why, instead, sequel Glass Onion (subtitled A Knives Out Mystery, although Johnson hates that addition) focuses on detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) from the first film. His Poirot-eqsue figure moves from case to case, stepping in to solve what seems unsolvable, and the movies make it clear that he's really, really good at what he does... when he gets a case.
Starting near the end of COVID lockdown, Glass Onion finds Blanc sitting around his apartment, unable to motivate himself because he doesn't have a case to drive him. He lives and dies by his cases, letting the twisty subjects engage his brain. Thankfully he gets an invitation to party on the private island of Miles Bron (Edward Norton), an eccentric, Elon Musk type, who regularly has these soirees with his close circle of friends he calls "disruptors". Bron is rich, powerful, and influential, and he has something special cooked up for this adventure: murder.
Well, okay, just a murder mystery game on his private island. But murder is also afoot. Inevitably someone dies, then someone else is shot, and at the center of it all is Bron and his circle of friends -- Kathryn Hahn as Connecticut Governor Claire Debella, Leslie Odom Jr. as scientist Lionel Toussaint, Kate Hudson as socially irresponsible /nline. influencer Birdie Jay, Jessica Henwick as Birdie's assistant Peg, Dave Bautista as game streamer and MRA influencer Duke Cody, and Madelyn Cline as Duke's girlfriend Whiskey -- and one enemy, Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), who used to run the company with Bron until they had a big and messy falling out. Any one of these people could be a suspect, in any of the crimes, and it's up to Benoit to figure it all out.
Very early on the film establishes a few important details. For one, Bron thinks very highly of himself. He's the center of this group and lords over them like a king on high. He has his fingers in each of their lives, guiding them around almost like puppets, and that means he can pull them around whenever he needs them (like making them lie, in court, in the case against Andi for control of the company). He thinks, because he runs the multi-billion dollar company he's the smartest person in the room, and he acts like it.
Of course, when Benoit comes along, the master sleuth proves to truly be the smartest man in the room. This is established early with the invitation to the island which is presented as a complex puzzle box that all the friends gather together to solve. Benoit, though, didn't need any help getting into the box, dismissing it as "a series of kids games" despite the build up for the complexity of the box. He then goes about the island, proving time and again that he sees and processes things differently from everyone else. It's fantastic.
Aiding this, of course, is Craig's delightful performance as the Southern-fried sleuth. Craig's accent is just as hilariously weird in this film as it was in Knives Out, an affectation that makes the detective feel warm and approachable. It blends with Craig's own affability in the role, lending Benoit the ability to hang out with all these rich (and insufferable) people without being off-putting to them (or the audience). Contrast Craig's performance with that of Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile and the difference is night and day.
I actually think comparing Glass Onion to Death on the Nile is a great way to see how brilliant this film is in comparison to Branagh's bloated and tired sequel. Nile is a long and tedious film that takes forever to get anywhere, staggering along for over an hour before anything in the least bit interesting (to the story, as well as for audiences) happens at all. It's like a overly-long travelogue on the Nile before Branagh finally, eventually, remembers there's supposed to be a murder mystery somewhere in that mess.
Glass Onion, meanwhile, gets right into the heart of the story, presenting a mini-mystery right at the start with the puzzle box (and the various ways the users solve their invitations), only to them up the intrigue with drama, confusion, and then murder. Glass Onion may seem like an exercise in getting people to a private island for a vacation (like Death on the Nile) but the pretty location is in service of the story and not the other way around.
And that's to say nothing about the brilliant twists Johnson works into this sequel's script. Clearly I don't want to spoil any of it but suffice it to say that, like with Knives Out, Glass Onion has its share of movie-redefining second and third act twists, enough to make you want to go back and watch the film all over again to see everything you missed. Some of the twists may be called "improbable", sure, but they work in service of the story and that's why they're great. Everything in this film is about the mystery at the core. Johnson never loses sight of that.
There is no other way to put it: Glass Onion is brilliant. It's a fitting follow-up to Knives Out that doesn't retread any story ideas while still maintaining the previous film's twisty structure. it proves that mystery is Johnson's genre, through and through, and the man should be allowed to make all the mysteries he wants for however long he's in show business. I, for one, will watch the continuing cases of Benoit Blanc for as long as they get made.