Review by C.J. Bunce
Wes Anderson has made some exceptional movies, some grow on you over time and others instantly reveal why he has such a large fan base. If you want to see what makes Anderson’s movies stand out, you could watch Glass Onion, writer/director Rian Johnson’s sequel to Knives Out, and it’s now streaming on Netflix. Anderson is expert in taking an ensemble of players and providing a boisterous, energizing load of fun, and it’s clear that is what Johnson was trying for in both Knives Out and Glass Onion. But where Anderson is masterful in his storytelling, Johnson chooses components, ideas, and scenarios that don’t work together, and ultimately his attempt at the Anderson mystique lacks that sparkle and quirkiness that makes Anderson’s shine. Glass Onion starts with a bunch of loathsome characters we couldn’t possibly care about and it all goes downhill from there.
The film opens with Daniel Craig back as Benoit Blanc, naked in the tub Otto Preminger style, back with his Foghorn Leghorn impersonation, and it’s just as nails on a chalkboard as in Knives Out. His presence is literally the only thing that ties Glass Onion to Knives Out, and ultimately he is only an incidental player. The attempt seems to be to capture some of the magic Kenneth Branagh has been harnessing for his Agatha Christie adaptations, but the difference is Craig’s character hasn’t earned his way yet. He’s just not Poirot, and in neither film does he even barely make a showing as a good detective. Craig is a much better actor than this role provides for him.
Edward Norton is Miles, a not-as-swift-as-his-followers-think billionaire with his own island lair called the Glass Onion, named for the St. Elmo’s Fire-esque bar haunt of his youth. He has sent out an invitation to a retreat he’s hosting on his island, the invite housed in multiple copies of a puzzle box, which teases the audience into thinking they can play along. But Johnson doesn’t give them a chance, as the characters solve it over the phone together in a quick montage. It’s clear the movie is about his ensemble of actors having a good time, whether the audience is engaged or not, without any actual mystery for Blanc or the audience to solve. The puzzle box is just a gimmick, a ticking of the box to get the guests to the island for the requisite Clue game ahead.
The guests are a group of characters as “real” as the Kardashians, a boring, overwrought group of self-centered clowns who gained and/or lost notoriety for their banality or inanity or both. They are played by Kate Hudson, who swaps her acting talent for melodrama, Dave Bautista who is loud and obnoxious, Kathryn Hahn who is just obnoxious, Leslie Odom, Jr. who is just there, Jessica Henwick who is a sidekick to Hudson’s character (it’s never explained why she gets to be there at all), and Janelle Monae as the only character that could possibly push the story forward. And does. Upon arriving on the island, the post-pandemic characters let some stranger spray something into their mouths, including the supposedly intelligent Blanc. If Blanc is smart, why does he need to go to this affair at all?
The second half of the movie replays the first half splicing in what the audience wasn’t shown. It could have been revealed Pink Panther/Clouseau style, but instead it’s just shuffled in. What’s with Johnson’s attention to breast references and vomiting? Who knows. Billionaire Miles has on loan from The Louvre the actual, original Leonardo Mona Lisa painting. Preposterous? Sure. Farcical? Yep. But it’s clear from the beginning the entire movie is pointing to him destroying it by film’s end, along with dozens of rare works of art made in crystal and other glass. Because destroying art is so funny? Who knows what he was thinking. The humor lands with a thud. The ending is 100% Zack Snyder explosion fest. Somewhere along the way there is a murder.
Glass Onion lacks complexity, nuance, and style. Even Blanc says it’s all dumb (but close your eyes when Craig talks and you will see a cartoon Foghorn talking to the barnyard dawg). The choices are bizarre. Much of the movie consists of political innuendo and inside jokes mainstream audiences will not understand or care about. So your time will be better spent with See How They Run or Amsterdam or The Menu or the series Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? or Branagh’s Christie movies or any Sherlock Holmes adaptation or any of the dozens of British mysteries reviewed and referenced here at borg. Each does it all so much better. If you want more Craig, re-watch every other Bond or Layer Cake. Edward Norton’s Wes Anderson movies like Moonrise Kingdom or crime movies like Motherless Brooklyn are much more fun. Bautista was better in Spectre, but doesn’t show much range. Hahn, Odom, and Henwick have dud roles here. Only Monae has a character with two sides to do something with.
An advertised mystery needs a mystery. An ensemble film should be fun. This doesn’t make the cut. Glass Onion is streaming now on Netflix.