‘Glass Onion’ Showcases The Brilliance of Rian Johnson’s Twisting Mysteries
5/5 twisted games
Wow, did Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery deliver.
The second film in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out series brings us into a new case for Benoit Blanc and immediately leaves us eagerly waiting for the next film to come out. What’s so perfect about Johnson’s take on the genre is that he’s bringing new life to the idea of a murder mystery, keeping things familiar without just repackaging stories we all know the ending to.
To that end, we’re going to keep this review spoiler-free and keep discussion of the actual mystery light. Everyone should experience this magical tour-de-force without knowing the twists and turns. So instead, let’s talk about the characters and this impressively stacked cast.
When Miles Bron (Edward Norton) gets his friends together for their yearly weekend trip in the midst of the pandemic, he sends them all an invitation to his private island, hidden inside an elaborate puzzle box. One of the guests happens to be the famous detective Benoit Blanc. Why? No one is quite sure but he has an invitation and thus the weekend murder mystery party now has a surprise guest.
The friends include Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Duke (Dave Bautista)—who brings his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) with him—Claire (Kathyrn Hahn), Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), Birdie’s assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and Andi (Janelle Monaé). The group’s bond solidified years ago during their time hanging out at the Glass Onion bar but what really ties them together is their dependency on Miles to help keep their lives functioning. That dependency keeps them close as much as it drives them all apart.
It’s a Rian Johnson whodunnit
The whodunnit is an art, and not one that always works. The minute you try to outsmart the audience is the minute you’ve lost. But Johnson never tries to make you think the movie is smarter than you at picking up the clues. It doesn’t pretend to be the most intelligent story in the world. In fact, Why Glass Onion works, like Knives Out before it, is because it constantly shows you its hand and leaves the audience to pick up on everything.
I’m not saying that the movie dumbs itself down for the audience—just the opposite. It keeps you on your toes by hiding hints in plain sight. When it all comes into focus and you realize what you’ve missed? It makes you second-guess whether or not you’ve been paying attention at all ,even if you did figure something else out in the process.
That it isn’t an easy task to do unless you’re the mastermind known as Agatha Christie, who has inspired Johnson and clearly passed that gift along to him. Both Knives Out and Glass Onion have the flare of a Christie story without being the carbon copy remakes we’ve seen time and time again. They’re fresh, exciting, and keep you on the edge of your seat.
What I think works best about Johnson’s world is that he’s not afraid to shine a light on any magnitude of people. But what he does seem to like is to highlight a character at its center who we want to root for. With Knives Out, it was Marta. For Glass Onion, it is Janelle Monaé’s Cassandra Brand (who her friends call Andi).
She comes into this movie having been betrayed by Miles and pushed aside by the group. As we learn more about her story and her connection to the Glass Onion bar and this particular friend group, we get to see Monaé shine.
While the film is an ensemble piece, much like the first was, Glass Onion does really showcase just how good Monaé is as a performer and I could watch her interact with any of these characters all thrown together.
We also get to explore what makes each character tick. Johnson doesn’t shy away from highlighting the bad of the bad (like Bautista’s gross right-wing MRA Twitch star Duke Cody) to those trying to be “good” people but going about it in all the wrong ways.
Duke needs Miles to help him find his success as an influencer but Duke is also not a great person in general. He always carries a gun and the first moment we see him, he’s talking about boobs, but that fits the mold for the kind of character that Johnson likes to put at the center of his jokes. Think Jaeden Martell’s Jacob Thrombey and all the jokes about the “small Nazi child” from Knives Out. It’s calling them out without sugarcoating anything.
While Duke sort of fills that gap, there are a series of rich characters in Glass Onion who depict varying levels of societal horrors. They really capture Johnson’s ability to put his finger on the pulse of the current state of affairs and all the world’s worst people.
Because while Duke’s awfulness is right on the surface, you also have characters like Lionel and Claire, whose flaws are more subtle.
Lionel works for Miles and is the one who is in the most contact with their illusive friend who doesn’t even have a phone and only communicates through one fax machine. And right out the gate, we see him as someone who is trying to make excuses for Miles instead of holding him accountable. The other side of that same coin is Claire.
When we meet her, she’s being interviewed on cable news and they’re talking about Miles’ donation to her political campaign. They’re both beholden to him for the money and so they excuse their genius friend and his antics as part of their shared history together. But both come across as politically correct, socially conscious-minded people—the opposite of the Dukes of the world.
Which brings us to Birdie…
This is a character who—as Hudson described herself at the Glass Onion press conference—always understands the third word of what you were saying. Her friends treat her as the baby of the group and they’re not exactly wrong to do it. She’s beautiful but she’s not going to hold the intellectual conversation the rest of her friends are more inclined to have.
She’s the gray area of these characters (and Whiskey falls into that space too) because she’s constantly saying the wrong thing—even truly horrible things—but there’s no malice behind it. She just genuinely doesn’t know what she’s doing is wrong, while characters like Miles and Peg enable her by cleaning up her messes. Peg, especially, is so concerned about keeping her job that she will just put those fires out.
All of this comes to be, however, because of Miles.
Miles Bron is a genius who created Alpha and seems to love a puzzle. It’s how we’re first introduced to him, how we’re first taken into this journey, and the whole setup for the weekend is that his friends are there to solve his murder at a murder mystery party. It’s Edward Norton being hilarious so you know, a perfect Edward Norton, but it also is a commentary on the type of rich “geniuses” we see dominating our society today.
Miles has so much money that he made a Glass Onion on his private island and can just completely leave all of his ideas up to other people to work on. That’s what extreme wealth can get you.
The Benoit way
And while all these new characters have so many layers to unpack and explore, this is still a Benoit Blanc story. More so than with Knives Out, he’s woven in right from the start and he’s in on the action as a part of the games. In Knives Out, we were setting up the story of the Thrombey family and what happened to Harlan, and while Benoit was there, he wasn’t as actively involved in every second of the story.
In Glass Onion, we really get to know Benoit. We get to see more of his personal life, his personality, and what he’s like when he thinks that he’s not working. It was giving a lot of Death on the Nile vibes but if Hercule Poirot loved a high-waisted trouser and holding a bitter grudge against the game Clue.
For the amount of entertainment Rian Johnson has given me, I may owe him my first born. If so, I’ll name the baby Glass Onion Knives Out. Or vice versa, whichever works for you. Because Glass Onion? It’s perfect. And one slight spoiler? Thank you for ending this movie with “Glass Onion” by the Beatles, I cheered because I feel like my heart would have broken had I never heard “I told you about Strawberry Fields” playing in this movie.
(image: JOHN WILSON/NETFLIX © 2022)
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