I’ve been anticipating the sequel to Knives Out for some time now. The 2019 movie was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and stands as one of my top 10 of that year. Instead of gloomy and gray New England, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, enjoying himself even more here) now travels to a bright, sunny Grecian island for his next case.
Rian Johnson clearly loves riddles and puzzles, there are so many inventive and cool ideas delivered with a large dose of mirth and whimsy. I’m not going to go into the plot too much here as I think it’s best not to know much about it before you go see this one. What I can say is that Johnson has cited several classic mystery thrillers/comedies as his influences, i.e. Murder on the Orient Express, Something’s Afoot, Murder by Death, Death on the Nile, Deathtrap, Clue, Gosford Park, etc. There are shades of Poirot in Blanc but Rian has practically reinvented the whodunit genre for the 21st century and made it his own.
From the moment each guest receives a box of riddles that they have to solve in order to retrieve the exclusive invitation, I knew we’d be in for a fun brain twister. Netflix clearly spares no expense for this franchise (a third movie is already in the works) and it shows in the production quality. Just the design of the box of riddle alone is phenomenally-intricate and it’s so much fun to watch each invitee figuring out how to solve the puzzle.
Then we get to the lavish estate on a private Greek island owned by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton – looking extremely tanned). Bron is happy to see everyone but surprised to see Cassandra ‘Andi’ Brand (Janelle Monáe) whom he shared a not-so-cordial past. On the surface, it seems it’s a business partnership-gone-sour but of course, there’s SO much more to it than that and the um, onion’s layers will get peeled one after the other as the movie goes on.
The glass onion itself refers to the shape of Bron’s glass dome in his estate… it’s one of the many strange, tacky, and simply weird architecture and decór choices. Opulent but ghastly, clearly money can’t buy class!
Once on the island, Blanc is introduced to an eclectic bunch from all walks of life–a Connecticut Governor (Kathryn Hahn), a scientist (Leslie Odom Jr.), a model-turned-fashion designer (Kate Hudson) and her assistant (Jessica Henwick), plus a social media influencer (Dave Bautista) and his sidekick girlfriend (Madelyn Cline). For the most part, the guests are vain, selfish, just plain-terrible people, you just know they all lie, cheat and steal their way to the top. So it’s a good thing Johnson’s got a playful cast portraying such a wicked group of folks. The actors seem to have a jolly good fun filming this which consists of a lot of frolicking by the pool, eating + drinking while drenched in luxury. I have to say their joy is pretty contagious and I find myself living vicariously through the characters having fun on a tropical island while I’m stuck here in a frigid-cold Winter!
Johnson’s movies have such great ensembles, but his main flair is in writing an enigmatic script filled with riddles and sneaky red herrings. Irony is the name of the game as the theme of Bron’s yearly reunion is a murder-mystery game that he has elaborately concocted. But then of course someone turns up dead and the murder mystery begins. The movie then launches a series of flashbacks unveiling activities that happened before everyone arrives on the island. The twisty plot is what we go see this movie for, but I also appreciate the surprising emotional resonance–the case affects Blanc more than simply a mystery he needs to solve.
Performance-wise, it’s a hoot to see Craig back again as the Southern detective with genteel manners. He clearly revels playing this character and it shows. I haven’t seen Norton in ages so it’s great to see his playful, comic side here. Monáe ends up being the emotional core of the film but she also got to lean on her comic timing here. I love the rest of the female cast, too! Hudson, Hahn, and Henwick are all great to watch. Hudson is so adept at screwball comedy and perfectly cast as the moronic sweatpants designer who thinks a sweatshop is just a place where they make her products, ha!
I think people who love crossword puzzles or playing riddle games might discover more easter-eggs than I did while watching it. Johnson peppers the movie with plenty of clues, absurd celebrity jokes and references, even timely cameos that would likely make some people gasp when they see them. There’s even a Mona Lisa which Bron says is not a replica but the original on loan from the Louvre during the pandemic. The references are as timely as ever, not just in regards to Covid, but it’s also a scathing jab against the abhorrent excess of the ultra-wealthy and the ‘fame trap’ of toxic influencer culture.
As comedic murder-mystery movies are becoming increasingly popular, I think Rian Johnson’s whodunit franchise is the shrewdest and brainiest, but also the most fun! The crafty script fires on all cylinders while keeping the tone facetious and lively, thanks also to Nathan Johnson’s grand score. In a way, it’s a perfect Christmas flick to enjoy with friends and family… it’s like watching a big, merry puzzle on a beautiful tropical island and everyone can dissect all the plot twists afterward.
Have you seen Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery? Well, what did you think?