Whodunit movies seem to be making a low-key comeback over the past few years. Whether it’s recognizable franchise vehicles like Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot movies, or more low-key delights like this past September’s See How They Run, it would appear that audience appetites for a good big screen murder mystery are steadily growing, no doubt further fueled by the incessant mysteries birthed from shared universes and other mega-tentpoles in the blockbuster circuit.
Much of this recent whodunit momentum was also no doubt catalyzed by Rian Johnson’s 2019 masterpiece, Knives Out, an all-new murder mystery gem, headlined by eccentric, queer Southern super sleuth, Benoit Blanc. Blanc’s outrageous leisure suits provided a comfortable new home for Daniel Craig in the twilight of his James Bond tenure, creating a dream team of sophisticated mystification between him and Johnson, one prepared to perfection with a delectable glazing of kooky wit, and a garnish of mocking the childishness exuded by the undeservedly wealthy. It was a critical darling and a big commercial success, with Knives Out’s worst trait merely being that Johnson and Craig would now have to repeat this trick in a string of inevitable sequels, sequels that were greenlit after Netflix secured the exclusive rights to at least two Benoit Blanc follow-ups.
Fortunately, Knives Out was no fluke, it would seem. Building from the excellent foundation of its 2019 predecessor, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery manages to craft an equally compelling Benoit Blanc conundrum, brilliantly catapulting its quirky lead detective into a deadly new riddle. This follow-up effort masterfully walks the line between echoing the high points of its original, while at the same time contriving something that feels wholly new; New cast, new location, new murder, new puzzle. Even the weight of Knives Out’s own sequel aspirations is never truly felt here, because, for Benoit Blanc, a mystery as bizarre as the one behind Glass Onion is still just another day at the office, and we’re once again along for the effortlessly compelling ride.
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Glass Onion isn’t just another intriguing whodunit title inspired by an old song; It’s a perfect microcosm of what to expect from this sequel’s entire narrative. Right from the jump, we’re given an even deeper dive into the sharp, winking craft of Benoit Blanc, as he finds himself whisked to a private island to participate in a murder mystery game hosted by an equally eccentric billionaire, Miles Bron, played by Edward Norton. The island destination itself is adorned with glassy exteriors, surrounding a host of rooms that are filled with crystalline treasures, with a literal glass onion constructed at its top; A tangible monument to the very illusion of complexity behind a method of premeditated murder, nonetheless committed for simple reasons.
This playing with the witty and the witless that sustained Knives Out so effectively is once again at play in Glass Onion, naturally, but this time, it’s repackaged with a novel new flavour in this second offering. Sure, we have a new cast of rich idiots that nonetheless all have the means and motive to commit murder, and it’s obviously not an audience leap to assume that Bron’s phony murder mystery game quickly becomes all too real when an island resident literally turns up dead during the event. It’s how Glass Onion plays with these simple expectations however that makes it so captivating as a detective caper.
Where Knives Out zigged, Glass Onion deftly zags, never allowing itself to feel stale or also-ran. Even as some of its fundamental ingredients feel familiar, Glass Onion is simply superb at keeping audiences on their toes. Rian Johnson’s script and direction are excellently unpredictable throughout, never allowing viewers to feel that they’ve truly pieced everything together, until the inevitable final explanation of which loathsome amateur assassin is behind the dangerous deed finally comes to light. Even then, the journey remains the high point, topped off with a resolution that continues to challenge audience expectations, while still managing to take you exactly where you hoped to go. Like I said, it’s a perfect union between the witty and the witless.
THE GAME IS SET. THE PLAYERS, PREPARED
Johnson and Craig can deliver a lot of mileage when it comes to crafting another great cinematic murder mystery, but in order for their latest detective yarn to fully come together, they need a supporting cast to ensure that each note in their new whodunit is once again hit with the proper effect. As expected, Glass Onion completely shuffles its supporting suspects, with Janelle Monae’s shady entrepreneur, Andi Brand, Kathryn Hahn’s socially conscious politician, Claire Debella, Leslie Odom Jr.’s pragmatic scientist, Lionel Toussaint, Kate Hudson’s vapid supermodel, Birdie Jay, Jessica Henwick’s overworked assistant to Birdie, Peg (just, “Peg”), Dave Bautista’s jingoist online influencer, Duke Cody, and Madelyn Kline’s sexpot girlfriend to Duke, Whiskey (unsurprisingly, just, “Whiskey”), being the new potential killers to tease Blanc’s brilliant mind.
Trading the exaggerated stuffiness of Knives Out’s Thrombey family for a comical new flavour of tenuous camaraderie, Glass Onion’s pool of suspects all claim to be great friends, and they certainly act like it too. It’s clear from the start however that many of the guests at Bron’s getaway have a notable grudge against him, and these circumstances become even shadier when it’s made apparent that Blanc isn’t supposed to be on the island with them. The evidence would suggest that amid all of these outwardly outspoken, but seemingly harmless friends hides a cunning mastermind that’s willing to exploit a weekend of fun in order to settle a score, and they aren’t afraid to kill the target of their wrath.
“Where Knives Out zigged, Glass Onion deftly zags, never allowing itself to feel stale or also-ran.”
Once again, there are no weak links throughout a supporting cast that’s as seemingly innocent as they are loaded with uncomfortable secrets. Each actor excellently embodies the necessary combination of intrigue, charm and comical discomfort behind every potential killer, all of whom bring a sharp modern flavour to an eclectic cast of suspect templates made reliably famous by the works of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Even as we see shades of familiar persons-of-interest, from the beautiful charmers to the prickly tough guys to the antisocial eggheads, Glass Onion’s mystery players feel unique and intriguing in their execution, carrying just enough of a tangible sense of reality to ground them, while also maintaining the heightened artifice of a good whodunit’s metaphorical puzzle pieces.
MURDER BY LAYERS
As I mentioned, one of the most clever tricks that Johnson has taken to new heights in Glass Onion is the juggling of complication and simplicity. Thus, much like its demand for a strong supporting cast, Glass Onion is also dependent on crafting a reliably solid puzzle box in order to keep audiences engaged with the mystery unfolding before them. Even this is kicked off by an almost meta introductory flourish, as the would-be suspects receive literal puzzle boxes from Miles Bron during the opening, teasing their functional, yet selective acumen. Through various circumstances, Benoit Blanc also ends up tangled in the subsequent deadly vacation, standing as the only person that’s truly able to unfurl every layer sustaining what would appear to be another ‘perfect crime’.
Where Glass Onion’s narrative structure really tries to go the extra mile is through crafting its entire story like the layers of an onion. It feels almost disappointingly mundane to first look at, but the pleasure of unfurling each layer can’t be overstated. Even as the delectable conundrum gives way to seemingly endless layers of clues however, both true and false in nature, the visible center always remains in view; A tease of almost insipid simplicity, with some of Glass Onion’s most brilliant plot twists also feeling like its most glaringly obvious in hindsight, yet still mischievously evading the watchful eyes and ears of the audience in the moment.
Whereas Knives Out dealt in the inexplicable and the irrational, Glass Onion instead builds its mystery around the virtually inevitable. It all feels so direct, and yet still so simultaneously confusing. Truth be told, this can sometimes work against the movie’s opening act as well, since it demands a fair amount of patience from the viewer. This is due to the surprisingly lengthy amount of time taken before the all-important murder mystery actually begins, another major switch from Knives Out, where the mystery kicked off pretty much immediately. The wait is definitely worth it, especially when Glass Onion’s whip-smart sense of humour still effectively picks up the slack while introducing its new band of potentially murderous weirdos, but this sequel definitely rides off the established success of Knives Out, which couldn’t afford to spend so much time pulling viewers into its story.
Glass Onion cements the chronicles of Benoit Blanc as the new gold standard of modern cinematic whodunits. This second offering takes a little longer to get going in contrast to the more immediate hook of Knives Out, but the same impeccable wit, unpredictable mystery and biting satire of the 1% all remain intact within a cleverly constructed new package.
Daniel Craig continues to steal the show as lead detective, Blanc, reprising a gentleman sleuth as strange as he is astute, one that once again excels when faced with a new band of equally enthralling murder suspects. With writer-director, Rian Johnson crafting a more secluded mystery that feels both faithful to its predecessor while also being impeccably novel in concept and execution, Glass Onion proves that there truly is an art to well-disguised simplicity, the kind that’s been lost in a recent sea of noisy, attention-grabbing action blockbusters.
I have nothing against Hollywood’s usual crop of superheroes, sci-fi and sorcery, of course, but few among that selection can claim to carry the impeccable attention to detail, and yet almost tauntingly taut execution that Glass Onion boasts in spades. Like Benoit Blanc himself, the budding Knives Out franchise is not to be underestimated, delivering refreshingly original cinematic treats for the mind and spirit, as fashionably classy as they are brilliantly weird.
Glass Onion delivers another excellently crafted, brilliantly eccentric new murder mystery for super sleuth, Benoit Blanc, reinventing its predecessor's formula to outstanding effect.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Excellent new supporting cast, still brilliantly headlined by Craig's Blanc
Novel new mystery that vexes as much as it intrigues
Johnson's humourous, yet clever direction continues to soar