How great is it that we have a Benoit Blanc cinematic universe? Given the major critical and commercial hit that Knives Out was, it was easy to see why the demand for more adventures with Daniel Craig’s super sleuth were inevitable.
But with sequels comes the pressure of living up to their predecessors. Which is why Glass Onion had its work cut out for it. Does the latest Blanc-venture live up to standards of its Oscar-nominated predecessor? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes.
Knives Out was actually one of my favorite films of 2019. I was one of the folks that really was hoping for more adventures with Blanc. And after two films featuring the character, writer-director Rian Johnson should really just change his name to “Agatha Christie,” because he’s so good at weaving tangled webs of twists and turns, and donut holes within donut holes. Glass Onion ups the stakes from the original Knives Out a bit more. The mystery is a blast, and so is the cast!
This time around, Blanc is called to Greece to join in a fun filled weekend of mystery games by eccentric billionaire, Miles Bron (Edward Norton). In addition to Blanc, a cadre of “disruptors” made up of Bron’s close friends (Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr, Dave Bautista, Kate Hudson, and Janelle Monae) along with their +ones (Jessica Henwick and Madelyn Cline) come to join in on the fun. Unfortunately, the games end when real tragedy strikes, and Blanc must act to once again catch the culprit before any more harm is done.
To repeat myself, this is a really fun movie, with a really fun mystery. Johnson, like the first film, has crafted a terrific whodunnit with twists and surprises that will have you second guessing your conceptions of every clue thrown your way. Even if the end result might be obvious, as it was the first time around, you know Johnson is intentionally focusing on the hows and the whys over the who. That’s the most fun aspect of every mystery. In fact, what separates this installment from its predecessor is that the movie’s whodunnit actually doesn’t start as obviously or immediately. So you think you’re watching or solving one mystery, but it really becomes deeper than that.
Additionally, as with every thought-provoking project he does, Johnson still infuses this mystery with a bit of terrific social commentary. As the first film had underlying themes satirizing White privilege and immigration issues in the country, this second film is infused with messages satirizing the rampant BS spouted by would-be influencers and so-called disrupters, and the proclivity of phallic-centric society to keep women of color down. It’s sharp, biting, and poignant, but also abundant in laughs. And that’s due to Johnson’s true gift as a witty, intelligent writer. The commentary is never in your face, yet it’s inherently important to the story. And the story is so good, it never feels preachy nor pandering. It simply enhances the narrative while hitting society and its flaws back with panache.
On a performance level, this movie is filled to the brim with terrific performances. Craig is still lovable and charming as Blanc. Hudson is insanely hilarious as fading fashion icon, Birdie Jay, who literally cannot go days without saying anything controversial or racist, but continuously is given second chances. She steals every scene with her ridiculous lines, with Henwick being equally hilarious (if not a bit underused) playing her long suffering, constantly disrespected assistant Peg. Bautista is also a standout as a pathetic males-rights activist who lives with his incredibly intelligent mother, and is bank rolled by Norton’s Bron. And they all interact with one another and play off each other really well. The comedic timing of this ensemble, as well as the chemistry they all share with one another, are terrific. And for those looking for gratuitous cameos, you’ll find a few hilarious surprises sprinkled throughout the film.
But make no mistake, this film 100% belongs to Monae, who delivers a powerhouse performance. I can’t go into too much detail about her character without spoiling things. But her role is the most complex, interesting one in the film. It’s not an easy one to perform, but Monae delivers a multi-layered performance seamlessly shifting between the demands of the part with ease. She’s an absolute goddess and a badass!
I will say, in addition to Henwick, a few others are underused as well. Cline for instance has a few terrific moments to shine, but isn’t given as much to do. When she does get a moment to shine she shines bright and strongly in a very empowering way. I was also slightly disappointed about the film’s use of Hahn and Odom, who are terrific, but don’t leave as much of an impact, despite how good they are. It’s mostly because of the nature of the story and the need to emphasize its biggest players: Blanc, Bron, and Monae’s Andi. And this is totally acceptable given how large the cast is. After all, the first film didn’t necessarily use powerhouses like Lakeith Stanfield or Toni Collette to their greatest potential, but they were still given moments to shine as is the ensemble in Glass Onion is as well.
The one thing that is noticeably different between the first film and this one is how much more this sequel feels less grounded. I think there was a charm with the first movie being more about the ensemble and the mystery, and less about over-the-top visuals and gestures. The kooky house of the late Christopher Plummer’s Harlan Thrombey served as a memorable setting for the film’s events, without the need or use of computer animation or over-exuberance, despite the theatricality of art direction. Granted the eponymous Glass Onion and Bron’s sanctuary is incredibly and intentionally overly lavish, but it takes the theatricality of that first film to a whole new level. And though the production design is glorious in this movie, I think the charm of this franchise is the less-is-more approach. Unlike films like the MCU or the Fast Saga movies, Knives Out shouldn’t be defined by explosions or CG, and characters in this reality should feel real to a degree. So much so that the first film goes out of its way to play with its audience by pointing out the stupidity in car chases.
Yet this installment has moments where it goes a bit over-the-top in an almost cartoony way that gives it a bit more of an inconsistent feel when compared to the first installment. It doesn’t ruin the story or mystery in any way. But when you have characters doing some pretty far fetched things, like tailing other characters in an obvious, Scooby-Doo sort of way, it just straddles the line between fun and ridiculous. It never thankfully crosses that line to the point where things are unenjoyable, but it plays with it way more than the original Knives Out, and sacrifices some charm because of it. I call that “the Netflix” effect.
Having said that, none of that takes away from the “Johnson” effect: the abundance of cleverness and commentary present in the film, that outweighs the cons of it. This, combined with the stellar performances from the cast, set the movie up for success, and make it worthy of the Knives Out moniker. Overall, Glass Onion is a hilarious, biting, ridiculously fun mystery with so many amazing twists and layers to peel back, that you’ll feel like you’re playing a complex puzzle sent to you by an eccentric billionaire. Let’s hope any subsequent cases we go on with Beniot Blanc, the last of the gentleman sleuths, ends up being as terrific as these last two.
Overall Score: B+