Bringing back the perceptive humor and Poirot charm of the first Knives Out, Glass Onion tackles questions involving class while explicitly, and rightfully, stating a phrase that haunts every critic’s existence; “it’s not that deep.” Yet by spelling out its title’s metaphor, Glass Onion accomplishes both a strong statement about the unscrupulous wealthy in the public eye and a lighthearted jest at how much current genre cinema’s attempts to be clever are aesthetic artifice around something self-apparent.
Let’s back up for a second. Glass Onion follows detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) once again solving a mystery involving a series of rich caricatures. Rather than centering around an autumnal mansion as the first movie does, the flashier flick places Blanc mid-pandemic on a private island owned by a rich billionaire (Edward Norton) and populated with an Instagram model turned pampered princess (Kate Hudson1), a gun-touting men’s rights activist (Dave Bautista, disdainful of his character to the point of being untruthful), a wannabe soccer mom senator (Kathryn Hahn, an always underrated delight), and a mysterious unexpected guest (Janelle Monae, whose innocent enthusiasm stops the film from feeling preachy) among others. When someone ends up dead, Blanc’s often comedic and always clever untangling of this web of wealth reveals dark truths that should have been immediately apparent.
Although movements from scene to scene in the first act can feel disjointed, the film’s tight scripting moves the plot along quickly and leaves the viewer with a feeling of catharsis for noticing every slight detail. Unlike the postmodern mystery of Knives Out, participation here is encouraged, and actually allows the viewer a chance at solving its key conundrum if one could only pay enough attention among the excess of flash and revelry. Therein lies writer/director Rian Johnson’s brilliance; he calls out how obvious his plotting should be, and yet is still able to craft a mystery that keeps us guessing through scintillating filmmaking and a script you’ll chase in circles around your head upon exiting the theater.
Much of what Johnson does with Glass Onion feels like a cinematic version of online discourse. Unfortunately for cinema, the current Hollywood era will go down in the history books footnoted by an explanation of the social media site Twitter. The saturation of critics, filmmakers, stars, insiders, and internet movie junkies tweeting today has designated it the unofficial small-screen hub for talking about the big screen. Setting aside the problems inherent in the site’s character limit restricting the kind of film discussion that can become popular, Twitter’s most significant impact on cinema was giving filmmakers a place to converse over stories in the real world. Generally, social media’s impact has meant studio movies (Netflix’s especially) have become gif-able line machines (or else self-serious cinematography experiments), parroting The Discourse™ for clicks and giggles.2
What does this have to do with Benoit Blanc? For better or worse (mostly the former), Glass Onion’s scripttakes its ideas straight from online discussion around privileged people. Every character personifies an archetype of someone Twitter might rag on or praise depending on who its algorithm has determined you are. The film pushes viewers to alternate between looking down upon them and wishing you lived in their luxury before arriving at furious disdain. You can already pick out the lines that will be gif-ified in replies and retweets In light of the social site’s recent change of management, Glass Onion feels both prophetic and cathartic, offering anyone who spends too much time on the internet a bit of silliness in which they can bask, reorient themselves, and casually rethink their idolatry.
Through the rambling charm of Blanc’s metaphors, Glass Onion subtly plays with our expectations of how much a genre franchise entry should have to say about real-world issues. With a knowing wink, Johnson reminds us that these movies are fragile pieces of entertainment. Moral or not, the film ultimately arrives at a conclusion that feels totally earned by its place instead of disguising shallow takes in self-congratulatory filmmaking. Johnson’s film is brilliant as it is dumb, an entertaining watch that will outsmart you at every turn… unless you pay enough attention to realize its blatant obviousness.
- Norton and Hudson both seem like stunt casting, riffing on their characters from Fight Club and Almost Famous respectively. Two overqualified cameos I won’t spoil in the film seem to point to Johnson finding humor in comparisons between earlier roles and their current one.
- This isn’t the only impact movies have felt from the site, nor are all impacts negative. Despite being based on a Twitter thread, A24’s Zola managed to be an intelligent one-sided look at personalities built on the foundation of emulating the more lavish lifestyles one becomes dependent upon, a fitting companion piece to Glass Onion.