Rian Johnson is single-handedly reviving the whodunnit genre. Sure, Kenneth Branagh's been churning out Hercule Poirot adaptations busting at the seams with big names. But where Branagh's detective movies are fondly looking back at the past through a tediously romantic (and self-indulgent) lens, Johnson's original stories use the framework of an Agatha Christie novel to create something exhilaratingly new, with fresh surprises, a gleeful wit, and a lively social commentary. In his follow-up to Knives Out, Johnson has presented a puzzle box sequel, Glass Onion, that's phenomenal, fun, gorgeous, and absolutely thrilling.
What do Glass Onion and Knives Out have in common?
Other than Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), there are no recurring characters from the first star-stuffed murder mystery movie. However, as before, this Southern gentleman detective is thrust into a bunch of rich American assholes, all vying for some macabre prize. This time, instead of the family estate, it's the favor of Miles Bron (Ed Norton), an obnoxious tech billionaire whose character is a none-too-subtle scathing and silly send-up of Elon Musk. A self-proclaimed genius, Bron loves to subject his friends, who he affectionately calls "disruptors," to complicated games (like puzzle boxes) and a murder mystery party they'll never forget. The revelry of pretending to solve a homicide is spoiled when the "world's greatest detective" arrives and someone really dies.
Knives Out was a snarling portrait of the evils of inherited wealth in America, cloistering audiences in an old house with a family so steeped in affluence and privilege that they felt entitled to both indefinitely. Glass Onion feels a bit more modern, with a focus on the moral decay that blooms within "new money." This sparkling ensemble features Kate Hudson as a cringeworthy model as known for her fashion past as her problematic tweets, Dave Bautista as a Twitch streamer who hocks dubious boner pills alongside Men's Rights agitpop, Kathryn Hahn as a soccer mom turned eco-minded politician, Leslie Odom Jr. as Bron's top apologist and chief engineer, and Janelle Monáe as Bron's former business partner who he savagely "Social Networked."
Naturally, tensions are high when this collective and their hangers-on dock on Bron's private Greek island, where his massive mansion includes a large glass dome called — you guessed it — the Glass Onion.
Glass Onion combines modern humor with dazzling spectacle.
The challenge with sequels is balancing the audience's desire for more of what they loved about the first film(s) without falling into tiresome repetition. Without getting into spoilers, Johnson plays once more with reversals, reveals, flashbacks, and complicated alliances, but he does so with such panache that Glass Onion doesn't feel like it's repeating steps, it feels like the continuation of an enthralling dance number. Craig and his scene partners nimbly hit each step, glowing radiant on the screen like old-school stars, exuding glamor, machismo, or outrageousness, feeling both larger than life and all too real at once.
At the World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the audience repeatedly roared with appreciation for quips delivered with broad comedy aplomb and visual gags that lampoon celebrity culture, as well as for the visual splendor that Johnson has put onscreen. The picturesque backdrop is adorned with eye-catching art, from familiar paintings to abstract glass sculptures that twist our vision of the scene as the camera's lens dips behind them. Bron's house is both beautiful and an eyesore, representing the collision of great wealth, bad taste, and a relentless compulsion to consume.
Then there are the costumes. My god.
Knives Out costume designer Jenny Eagan, who gave us the gift of Chris Evans in that sweater, has somehow outdone herself with the sequel. With every detail, she exquisitely informs our understanding of these rich jerks partying on a private island while the COVID-19 pandemic has just begun to shut down nations worldwide. Whether it's eccentric swimwear, extravagant evening wear, or a face mask recklessly made of glittery netting, Eagan's designs communicate the specific brand of each character with an eye toward storytelling, spectacle, and humor. Together, she and Johnson can turn a pinstripe bathing suit or a familiar vest into a popping punchline without ever slowing down the film's rollicking pace.
Full on: Eagan deserves an Oscar for her work here.
The Glass Onion is fast-paced, wildly fun, and wickedly funny.
Johnson has assured that lightning strikes twice with this much-anticipated sequel. Once again, he pulled together a crackerjack ensemble that is not only explosively entertaining in their roles but also radiates with the exuberance of the project. This sequel has an energy that is uplifting and infectious. Its pacing races, then slows to swell around a dynamic new turn; it's as if Blanc's strong grip has us by the hand, confidently guiding us through betrayal, greed, and murder at a clip that brings to mind the fantastic final acts of Clue.
For those who wonder if they can crack the case, the clues are there — but so are several convincing red herrings. So, the final reveal should prove a fantastic surprise, even if you've caught some of the hints along the way. Incredibly, Johnson has made a puzzle that feels like we are playing along. And whether or not you get the right answer, it feels like we all win with this one.
Glass Onion was reviewed out of its World Premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Netflix will release the film in theaters this fall ahead of its debut on the streaming service on December 23.
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