Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion” is one of those movies I would love to analyze in every single way. It is so cleverly constructed to where I want to know how he went about writing the screenplay. Putting a mystery like this together cannot be the least bit easy because nothing this ingenious comes to any filmmaker easily, and I have to believe Johnson had this story percolating in his brain for many years before it became a reality. This film has several layers viewers will have plenty of fun peeling away at, and the misdirections it employs are wonderfully insidious in a way Ben Shapiro will never be able to appreciate like any intelligent audience member can.
On top of being named after a classic Beatles song, “Glass Onion” is also Johnson’s sequel to “Knives Out.” Or, more correctly, it is a standalone sequel as the only actor returning from “Knives Out” is Daniel Craig who returns to play private detective Benoit Blanc. This time, Benoit has found himself invited to the private island of the billionaire co-founder of the technology company Alpha, Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Miles has brought together a group of his friends together on his island in Greece to play a murder mystery game, and they include Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), controversial fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) who is accompanied by her harried assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and men’s rights streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) who is accompanied by his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). But the most controversial guest of all is Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), the other co-founder of Alpha who was ousted from this group a long time ago, and yet she appears here to everyone’s utter shock.
Still, none of this deters Miles from getting his guests to solve the murder mystery he has in store for them. There is, however, one catch. The murder everyone needs to solve is Miles’, and it is here my friends that I refuse to tell you anymore about the story. To do so would ruin an insidiously good time you are bound to have while watching this.
Having seen “Knives Out,” I was tempted to believe I knew which direction Johnson was going to take the audience in with this follow up. But after a good twenty or so minutes, he pulls the rug out right from under us to where I really did not know where things would be heading. While it might seem obvious as to who will get murdered, it is actually not in the slightest. And once the first murder is committed, you become every bit as inquisitive and fearful as the other characters because no one can ever feel safe on this island from there.
Watching “Glass Onion,” I kept wondering what inspirations fueled Johnson to write and construct this screenplay with. Surely he could not have come up with all of this on how own, or did he? Did he read a lot of mystery novels by Agatha Christie and Gregory McDonald? Even I have to catch up with all those “Fletch” novels which I keep promising to myself I will read someday. Watching everything come together is a sheer blast as I kept thinking the fun could only last for so long until everything falls apart. But nothing ever fell apart for me as all the story elements seem to fit together perfectly in a way they never could have in all those “Saw” movies.
The average Pixar movie has so many easter eggs to where watching them once can never be enough. “Glass Onion” is no different as there are so many things you have to keep an eye out for, and the number of name drops of famous people throughout feels endless. There is also a plethora of cameos here which are too good to spoil here as they come out of nowhere, and the one involving Benoit’s partner in life is truly priceless.
I believe Craig’s role as Benoit Blanc may eventually supersede his most famous role to date as James Bond since he is clearly having far more fun playing this character than he ever did as 007 (seriously, just ask Dave Bautista). While playing a British spy may have forced this actor to act within certain boundaries, writer/director Johnson is more than willing to let him turn loose as a private investigator who is a mix of Jacques Clouseau and Sherlock Holmes. The joy of Craig’s performance is that he keeps you guessing as to whether he will solve a crime by sheer accident, or if he will actually deduce who the guilty person is before anyone else can.
The rest of the “Glass Onion” cast prove to be as game as the cast of “Knives Out,” and this did not surprise me in the slightest. Kate Hudson channels her mother Goldie Hawn’s character from “Overboard” here as Birdie Jay, and it is nice to see here in a motion picture which is as deserving of her talents as “Almost Famous” was. Kathryn Hahn brought her sublime and harried comedic talents as Governor Claire Debella here, and her constant exasperation proves to be a continued joy. Bautista once again proves there is much more to him than his character of Drax in those “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies in his portrayal of YouTube star Duke Cody, and that’s even though we should have known this after seeing him in “Blade Runner 2049.” And there is no ignoring Edward Norton who makes tech billionaire Miles Bron into every bit the bumbling manager Elon Musk has proven to be when it comes to Twitter. Of course, this is nothing more than an amazing coincidence as Johnson started writing this movie long before the Tesla visionary even thought about buying the internet app James Woods used to go apeshit on.
But the one performance worth singling out in “Glass Onion” is the one given by Janelle Monae. She portrays Andi Brand, but her role proves to be far more complex than at first glance asshe has to sell us on different facets of an individual we did not walk into the theater expecting to see. Again, I do not want to give anything away, but Monae has more to do here than the other actors, and the fact she pulls this off is beyond admirable as it makes her work look all the more impressive.
You know, when you look at Rian Johnson’s filmography, he has always appeared to be a mystery buff of sorts. His breakthrough movie, “Brick,” was a neo-noir mystery, but while his next film, “The Brothers Bloom,” was more of a caper, it still featured characters searching for answers which constantly elude them. The same goes with my favorite Johnson movie to date, “Looper,” as well as “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in which characters we know or don’t know are trying to find some way to silence the chaos which constantly disrupts their seemingly peaceful existence.
Taking this into account, I cannot wait to see where Johnson and Craig take this franchise next. Thanks to the deal they have with Netflix, we can expect at least one more “Knives Out” installment in the future, and maybe there will be even more following that. Like James Cameron with his “Avatar” movies, Johnson and company are not about us to give us the same exact thing twice.
* * * ½ out of * * * *