Rian Johnson, a master of subverting expectations and throwing you for a loop(er), returns with a sequel to his quirky 2018 murder mystery hit – Knives Out. Once again, he brings together a star-studded cast for another thrilling whodunnit in Glass Onion, following Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he travels to Greece for his latest case.
The murder mystery genre is one that’s still kicking, and it’s due to people like Rian Johnson, who is one film away from really being crowned a king of the genre. With both Knives Out and Glass Onion, he reinvents and refreshes the whodunnit by presenting an original story, unique structure, intelligent commentary and his trademark narrative subversion. No matter what you go into this film expecting, Rian has something up his sleeve that’ll pull the rug out from under you and keep you second-guessing your every thought. Much like an onion, this film has many layers, and it’s as these layers are peeled back that more of the story is revealed – completely flipping the script and changing the game time and time again. Honestly, Rian Johnson has crafted something so damn special that even Agatha Christie herself would be astounded by the result.
There’s a definitive turning point in this film – a specific layer which when peeled back transforms this story into one of the freshest murder mystery outings I’ve ever witnessed. It’s a ballsy move, but it’s pulled off in such a way that’s absolutely perfect – leading into my thought that this is one film where I feel like a repeat watch is almost essential. Not in terms of understanding the story, but just in terms of appreciating everything Rian has implemented to both foreshadow and misdirect the audience.
The unique and quirky narrative is made even more effective by the use of detective Benoit Blanc as a vessel for the audience to experience the mayhem caused by putting all these animated personalities in the one place. The film is almost exclusively perceived from his perspective as he attempts to connect the dots and figure out exactly what is going on. Rian Johnson’s approach here has led me to do a complete backflip on my stance surrounding Daniel Craig’s Knives Out performance. In that film, I thought he was fine but the accent bothered me. I didn’t think it worked well, and it was more distracting than anything. This time around, everything about the character and Daniel’s performance worked. I love the character’s rather adorable quirks and his unique way of reacting to the world around him. Daniel amps up the ‘weird’ factor and plays into the chaos. Even the accent is something I really enjoyed – it just really fits the character and contrasts well with the other wild personalities. So yeah, despite bothering me in Knives Out, I’ve done a full 180° and come to admire everything he does in here.
Through his subversion of narrative tropes and expectations, Rian Johnson builds tension incredibly well over the entirety of the film’s first half. As we get to know each of the characters and the murder-mystery element begins to take shape, things become increasingly more unsettling, putting you further on-edge with each passing minute. It really does feel like a ticking time bomb, with one key scene in particular acting as a brilliant display of suspense. In the scene in question, Rian makes use of chaotic sound design and overlapping dialogue to create a sensory overload that ramps up the tension tenfold. While yes, there’s a great amount of suspense, Rian Johnson’s quirkiness shines through in the dashes of ridiculous comedy and witty dialogue. The comedic edge is spread amongst the entire cast, and everyone hits their mark.
Speaking of the cast, talk about a lineup of stars delivering great performances that are loud, entertaining and perfectly fit the tone of the film. Murder mysteries typically excel in their ability to feature a huge all-star cast, and Glass Onion is no exception. The diversity in the characters stems from the diversity in the cast, and I feel this group has more of a variety in personalities than any other recent murder mystery film. Of the actors in here, it’s Janelle Monáe who steals the show with a standout performance. Her character, Andi, is the most down-to-earth of the lineup, so there’s a lot of reliance on her character to really fuel the emotion.
The rest of the ensemble, from Edward Norton (Miles) and Kate Hudson (Birdie) to Dave Bautista (Duke) and Kathryn Hahn (Claire) each deliver strong performances that really embody the characters they’re playing. Jessica Henwick (Peg), Leslie Odom Jr. (Lionel) and Madelyn Cline (Whiskey) round out the central cast and contribute well in their respective scenes. As there aren’t too many ‘solo’ scenes, it really is the chemistry of this bunch that makes them all pop. The back-and-forth between these very out-there personalities makes for plenty of fun. Then when you thrown Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc into the mix, there’s all sorts of entertaining interactions. Unfortunately the weakest link is Madelyn Cline’s Whiskey. That’s not a fault of hers though, she just doesn’t really have the most to do in those larger ensemble sequences.
I also want to bring up the fact that this film does take place in COVID-era 2020, something that’s evident through a few story beats (as well as the presence of masks in the beginning). It’s not like Rian Johnson has just done it for a laugh – it grounds the film in the real world, and also helps service the story.
In the end, Glass Onion has delivered on everything I love about the murder mystery genre and incorporated plenty of shocks and surprises to make this a wholly unique experience. The narrative is smartly-written, wonderfully creative and makes beautiful use of Rian Johnson’s ability to subvert any and all expectations. This is just a near-flawlessly directed outing from Rian Johnson, cementing it as one of my favourite films of the year. Not only that, it’s most likely my favourite murder mystery – mainly for how it uses its very unique story structure to its advantage in crafting something unforgettably unique. There are so many spoilers I wish I could talk about, but this is all better experienced as blindly as possible. I implore any fan of the genre to check it out as soon as you get the opportunity.
My 90 YO mom and I (68) just watched this and we’re underwhelmed. We found none of the plot or subplots to be interesting, the characters be to be mostly predictable and two-dimensional, and the best part to be the set.
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