Film Reviews

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Film Review

Three years on from Knives Out, writer and director Rian Johnson has reunited with Daniel Craig to bring Benoit Blanc for another mystery. Although the first film is referred to in the title here, this is simply for marketing purposes, as Glass Onion is unrelated to its predecessor, with Blanc the sole reprised character.

Miles Bron (Edward Norton) is the billionaire owner of Alpha, a series of companies comprising a car division and a news network, amongst many other parts we learn little about. Set in May 2020, at the height of the first wave of COVID (something, in the event, utterly irrelevant to the story), he invites a group of old friends to his private island. These include Duke (Dave Bautista), a men’s rights YouTuber, Birdie (Kate Hudson) a vacuous ex-model, Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), a senior executive at Miles’ company, Claire (Kathryn Hahn), a state Governor now running for the Senate, and Andi (Janelle Monae) co-founder of Alpha, who lost her share of the business to him in court. Also present is Birdie’s assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick), and Duke’s girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline).

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Also arriving with an invitation is Blanc, though his has not come from Miles. The weekend is intended to be a murder mystery, before events take a turn, and the legendary detective’s skills are required for real. That is all we can say without being in major spoiler territory.

Credit: John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.

So, let’s get to the question first on the minds of many, is this as good as Knives Out? No, it is not. The first film has a terrific first act, using the device of police interviews to set the scene, and give us both a feel for the characters, and an understanding of their relationship to the victim. Here, our first act is a silly series of puzzles inside a box that have to be solved in order to get to the invitation. This goes on for far too long, and all we learn is that Birdie is really dumb, and Duke is something of a misogynist. This speaks to a comparative flaw more generally, that the characters are more thinly drawn than in the previous story. They have one distinguishing characteristic each, and that’s it. Added to this, none of them are particularly likeable, there is no one here as seemingly kind hearted as Ana de Armas’ Marta. At least, not on the surface. This means that where Knives Out was a complete story, satisfyingly told, this time it is all about the puzzle. The film basks in how clever it is.

That said, it is clever. Watching it through twice will reveal that almost every piece of information we’re given has meaning, along with dialogue choices being very deliberate. There is such a high-wire act going on here, one of giving the audience something to work with, yet not giving anything away. On a rewatch, all of these moments stand out, as we know where they are.

Credit: John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.

Performances are terrific, and in particular Monae’s turn is full of depth and versatility, even if her character is not the equal of Marta, her closest equivalent from last time. All of the cast get a lot of screen time, much of it in one room, and they are all very strong.

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Glass Onion leans into its comedy even more than its predecessor. Sometimes this works very well; sometimes it is immersion-breaking, such as the star cameos when we first meet Blanc, as he’s talking to very famous people playing themselves. It feels a bit obnoxiously self-congratulatory. Once on the island though, there are several funny exchanges and good set pieces.

This adds up to a film that is very entertaining indeed. Whilst it is not as complete a film as Knives Out, it’s probably as much fun as that film. Where that film had the merest hint of Blake Edwards, this has more of a ladle-full of him. Whilst this means Glass Onion can stand alongside its predecessor as an enjoyable, well thought through murder mystery, any further progression down the comedic path could shorten the series’ lifespan, as this has come out a little more cartoonish this time, something which will wear out its welcome far more quickly. For all of that, most fans of the first film will find much to enjoy here.

Glass Onion is now streaming on Netflix.

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