Glass Onion still has something of Johnson’s enduring interest in puzzles, but it’s unfortunately padded out with the shallow cleverness of endless pop culture references.
Rian Johnson’s latest stab at Wes Anderson-does-Clue has a lesser cast, a more pandering script, and a wholly phony “Eat the Rich” political angle. Thankfully, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery also has the same sleuth from the first Knives Out, and Daniel Craig is just as good, if not better — still getting a lot of laughs out of the simple set-up of his folksy, Foghorn Leghorn-adjacent drawl cropping up between lengthy monologues from scheming wealthy ne’er-do-wells. This time, Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) is dropped surreptitiously onto an advanced tech-equipped island with a cabal of rich celebrity sycophants, all invited for a weekend getaway/murder mystery party by their Steve Jobs-like ringleader, Miles Bron (Edward Norton).
One of the more obnoxious “choices” in this film is to introduce us to its near-full cast right at the outset with a chaotic montage that almost seems to suppose we should know who everyone is already, though in reality what Johnson is doing is mistaking the collection of thinly written stock types (and one-note performances) for more compelling characterizations. It’s all insufferably vapid, and it doesn’t so much feed us any information of who these characters are as it does pack a lot of very lame visual gags and one-liners into a very dense sequence. That sugar rush largely continues for most of Glass Onion’s first act, which leans heavily on plug-and-play joke schematics that amount to people gesturing to made-up products like “Jeremy Renner’s hot sauce” and “Jared Leto’s kombucha” — right up until the film recycles the same trick from the first Knives Out, doubling back to re-examine its narrative from another, unexpected angle.
Partly by design, Glass Onion never musters the same level of inter-connected relationship drama and windy narrative detail that informed the contours of the mystery in Knives Out, and the reason for that becomes cause for a modestly funny joke. (Basically, Blanc’s attempts to solve this mystery, he finally realizes, have been thwarted at every turn because his master analytical mind hasn’t accounted for how “stupid” the murderer is.) That self-aware copout would be easier to take if Glass Onion didn’t also try to mount some kind of earnest class commentary — pretty rich (pun intended) for a movie with a $469m Netflix price tag, some of which ostensibly went to a completely pointless licensing fee for that Beatles song in the title.
The concept of “the disrupters” — the group of pseudo-radical influencers, politicians, and innovators assembled by Norton’s Miles and his ex-wife Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe) — is one that Johnson intends to use to blow up the spot of people who think breaking social norms is cool and subversive. But that doesn’t amount to much more than pandering liberal pablum here, and by the end of Glass Onion, any serious engagement with those ideas is abandoned for a cheaper, easier anarchism that never squares itself with this film’s own lavish production. Anyway, what saves Glass Onion, when one can ignore its more taxing excesses and ideological shortcomings, is Johnson’s enduring interest in puzzles, a quality which won him some earned recognition for the original Knives Out, as someone thinking about whodunnit mechanics in a way that hasn’t been seen in mainstream American cinema for awhile. There’s a bit of that here; one just wishes the cleverness of those ideas wasn’t so exhaustingly padded-out with the more hollow “cleverness” of this film’s endless pop culture references.
You can currently catch Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion in theaters or streaming on Netflix beginning on December 23.
Originally published as part of TIFF 2022 — Dispatch 3.