The Beatles’ “Glass Onion” from The White Album is a self-referential piece, lyrically calling back to past Beatles songs, and at times deliberately obtuse. But it’s also a song that suggests that the listener shouldn’t overthink it too much and just enjoy the melody.
If you’re looking for a deeper meaning, examine “Glass Onion” as much as you want. But if you just want to dance to it, well, knock yourself out. There is literally something for everybody in it.
Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery feels very similar – if you want to obsess over the film’s many plot twists and turns and look for contextual and thematic meaning to it all, it’s all there if you want it. But if you want to raise your hands in the air and enjoy all the hills, valleys, and loops of the rollercoaster, Johnson is happy to oblige.
Like the first film, Glass Onion is an engine of entertainment, and as an engine, hearing this baby purr under the hood is sweet music all its own. Glass Onion, it turns out, couldn’t be a more apt title.
Lately, I’ve been a bit reticent to review Netflix titles. I am still a firm believer in the theatrical experience, and I believe that there is a place for everything under the sun, but some movies are meant to be seen with an engaged audience. When I heard about Rian Johnson‘s Netflix deal with this franchise, a bit of me was disappointed by the news, because Rian’s films are so geared for that shared two hours and change that we sit together and take that ride.
Glass Onion is not a film to be experienced in solitude, especially once all the pieces are in play and we see Johnson move them on the board. We are in the hands of a master, and it’s no fun riding the rollercoaster alone. I hope that Netflix continues to put these movies in the theater – I’m not privy to any contractual deals, but I suspect that’s the way Rian Johnson wants it too.
The story is deceptively simple, as we meet several people by conference call, as they all receive a gift from billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). It’s the early months of the pandemic, and everyone is in self-isolation. There’s Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), the Connecticut governor running for a Senate seat, and reliant on Miles for campaign funds.
There’s Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), former supermodel and now fashion designer, who often doesn’t think before she speaks. There’s Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Miles’ tech guy and often exasperated by Miles’ many ideas and how to implement them.
There’s Twitch streamer and men’s rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), who like the others has been friends with Miles for many years but wants more than Miles may be prepared to give. There’s also Andi (Janelle Monáe), who has had a falling out with Miles, even going so far as to sue him for control of the company they once co-founded together, Alpha.
All receive an invitation to appear at Miles’ private Greek island for a weekend of fun and games, safe and ensconced away from the rest of the world. But there’s a wrinkle. World-renowned detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) has also been given an invitation to attend. And it’s not exactly clear who invited him. And what was at first simply a pleasure weekend turns into a sinister night of mayhem and murder.
To say more than that about the plot would be to reveal too much and would spoil the fun. But, like an onion, there are layers upon layers, and no one is as they seem. I think a lot of the thrill for Rian Johnson is carefully orchestrating the characters and the plot so that when all the pieces fall into place later, it’s as exciting for him to write as it is for us to watch.
There is, much like Knives Out, a lot of social commentary inside Glass Onion. Knives Out dealt with the dynamics of family in these turbulent political times; it was no accident that it came out during Thanksgiving, when families come together and argue politics, religion, and familial status.
Glass Onion is more meta in regard to its commentary. All these characters are “disruptors,” as Miles puts it – influential people shaping the world, but with only the vision to see what is right in front of them. Sometimes their self-delusions are funny, and sometimes they can be dangerous. But that’s only there, again, if you want it. Watching Benoit Blanc systematically break these people down is as entertaining as it was in the first film, and it’s obvious that Daniel Craig is having as much as a blast as he was the first time around.
But Glass Onion is also different enough from its predecessor as to keep us guessing until the very end. In Knives Out, Blanc was stymied by the intricacies of the villain’s machinations, but this time, Blanc is so far ahead of everyone else that it’s a pleasure watching these movers and shakers catch up to him. He truly is a detective for the ages.
Janelle Monáe, like Ana de Armas in the first film, is the audience surrogate, and like the first film, has her own agenda and her own motivations. Monáe is terrific here, and once more is revealed, has a more difficult role than appears on the surface, but she rises to the occasion.
The entire cast is wonderful, but Dave Bautista impresses me the more I see him – he’s very aware of his persona on screen and he’s very skilled at manipulating it for maximum impact and in service to the story. He may very well be the best actor to come out of wrestling. But everyone handles the twists well. Edward Norton seems to be having a great time playing the smug billionaire; let’s just say the spelling of his name is no accident.
In fact, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery feels like a movie that is so timely that they could have finished shooting it last week. Although there are a lot of mystery movies and books in Glass Onion‘s DNA (especially a wonderful whodunnit from the 1970s called The Last of Sheila, which feels like a direct inspiration, check it out if you can) this is very much a modern story, with modern sensibilities and a modern sense of outrage and justice.
I would go so far as to say that at this point, this franchise’s social commentary is a feature, not a bug. These may be murder mysteries on paper, but in execution they are indictments of a world where the privileged run amok while the less fortunate suffer, and seeing these people taken down is righteous and thrilling.
If you can’t watch this in a theater, then do the movie a favor and watch it with a room full of people willing to get on the ride with you. Glass Onion is a party, and it’s not a party if you’re alone. I hope Rian Johnson can make his Star Wars films, but if it takes him years to get there (if ever), the Benoit Blanc films are just fine with me. If Daniel Craig is game, I hope to see his Benoit Blanc for many years to come.
I haven’t even talked about the delightful cameos, the intricate set design, the gorgeous costumes, the playful score, the elegant cinematography. It’s nice to have a film as well made and as thoughtful as it is entertaining. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is sheer pleasure from beginning to end. Give us more, please.
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY REVIEW SCORE: 9.5 OUT OF 10
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will open in select theaters on November 23 and will then be available to stream on Netflix December 23. The film is rated PG-13 for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content.
Alan Cerny has been writing about film for more than 20 years for such sites as Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD, Birth Movies Death, and ComingSoon. He has been a member of the Houston Film Critics Society since 2011. STAR WARS biased. Steven Spielberg once called Alan a “very good writer,” and Alan has the signed letter to prove it, so it must be true.