Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Self-Referential Title is Self-Referential

Film: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Format: Streaming video from NetFlex on rockin’ flatscreen.

On the day after Christmas, 2022, noted failed screenwriter and right-wing wastepaper basket Ben Shapiro went on a 17-tweet long rant about how much he hated Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (which I will call simply Glass Onion from this point forward). Part of his rant was about the politics of the movie (and we’ll get there), but it started with his evident inability to understand the basics of whodunnit mysteries. Shapiro complained that the first half of the movie was a bait-and-switch…and then in the middle of his rant switched focus, much like he just complained about.

It would be fair to complain a bit about Glass Onion because it doesn’t reach the same joyful narrative heights of the first Benoit Blanc mystery. This is much more a candy confection than the first film, an elaborate puzzle box like the ones received by the man characters at the start of the film. Because of this, its less rewatchable than the first film. Don’t take this as a serious negative criticism—sometimes this is exactly what you want. It is a difference, though, and there’s no getting around that.

Glass Onion is a film that fully embraces the idea of the pandemic. In fact, it’s a plot point that the characters here are isolated. We start with a group of four people—the governor of Connecticut Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom), fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), and men’s rights YouTuber Duke Cody (Dave Bautista)—receive a box from tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). The box contains a number of puzzles that eventually open up to reveal an invite to Bron’s private island in Greece. We see a fifth person receive a box as well, but she simply smashes it open. And, of course, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) gets one as well.

The first half of the movie has everyone showing up to the island, along with three additional people. Accompanying our collection are Peg (Jessica Henwick), Birdie’s assistant who just barely keeps her boss from imploding on social media; Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), Duke Cody’s girlfriend with a dark secret; and Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monae). It’s Andi who makes most of the plot here. It turns out that Andi was the partner of Miles Bron, who froze her out of the company the two of them formed together. And, we learn, Miles was assisted in doing this by the other guests on the island.

The second half of the film is the switch, where we learn what is really going on with Benoit Blanc and his appearance on the island. We learn more about the relationship Miles Bron has with the others, the people he calls his “disruptors,” as well as their history together. And, of course, we’re going to see the rest of the mystery play out.

Here's the thing about Glass Onion: it’s the sort of story and movie that is designed to make you slap yourself in the forehead when you get to the end of it. A big part of what makes the film work is just how much of it works on a meta level and how much of it is designed to make the audience feel a bit exasperated. This works for the film, of course, but is also the thing that makes it much less rewatchable. Watch it once to see the story unfold, watch it a second time to see what you missed the first time, and then it doesn’t have a lot to warrant another viewing.

So, now that we’ve addressed the plot, we need to talk about the parts of Glass Onion that really trigger the people who call others “snowflakes.” The first is that we learn that Benoi Blanc, the world’s greatest detective in the world of this film, is gay. We get a brief scene of Philip (Hugh Grant), his domestic partner. Someone, somewhere is complaining about the fact that it’s “woke” to make him gay rather than just understanding that a significant part of the population just happens to be gay.

The bigger issue is the treatment of Miles Bron in terms of how he acts and how he is depicted. A lot of this plays to the plot of the film, though, and I don’t want to go there. While Glass Onion isn’t as good as the first film, it’s not a film that deserves to be spoiled in any way. Suffice it to say that the Right is going to look at the Miles Bron characters as a clear parody of someone like Elon Musk, and they’re going to get bent out of shape about it. The Left is going to see the same thing and consider it accurate. The truth is that Glass Onion was written and filmed before Musk’s Twitter explosion, so if this is a critique on him, it’s prescient more than anything else.

All of the performances are fun here, but this is really the film of three people: Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, and Daniel Craig. Norton is good, and he seems to enjoy playing roles that make him a sort of friendly foil, much as he did in Birdman. Monae is as good as she has ever been, taking on a role that is a great deal deeper than it looks on the surface and at first. But this is Craig’s property. He’s having a genuinely great time playing Benoit Blanc, and I hope that we get one of these every couple of years until he decides the series has run its course in at least a couple of decades.

Why to watch Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery: It’s a delightful concoction of comedy and murder.
Why not to watch: It’s not as good as the original.


  1. I think the first film is still the better film but I really enjoyed this one. Notably the second half of it as I really love what both Daniel Craig and Janelle Monae did with the latter just fucking killed it. I'm looking forward to the next film and hopefully have a cameo from both Monae and Ana de Armas reprising their respective roles.

    I would like to see Hugh Grant be a key player in the next one as the idea of him and Daniel Craig as a couple is very interesting.

    1. I have a feeling that all of the Benoit Blanc movies are going to be great performances for Daniel Craig and whomever it is that he ends up helping, and I would love to see both de Armas and Monae show back up in future films.

      Hugh Grant needs to have bigger parts in the future movies. That's a couples dynamic I really want to see play out.

  2. I'm with you on this not having quite the zest and snap of the first but I enjoyed it. I know the opulence and extreme action was part of the film's motif but as it headed towards its conclusion I found it all to be a bit much and I lost my enthusiasm for the story.

    I also agree Craig and Janelle Monae were the strongest of the ensemble but I did like how fully Kate Hudson embraced the shallow ditziness of her character without making her a total moron. She's always reminded me of her mother because of their resemblance but this is perhaps the first time I've seen her handle a role with Goldie's deftness of touch.

    1. That's a solid point about Kate Hudson. I've never been a huge fan of hers, but she really played Birdie Jay about as well as that role could be played. She was ridiculous and stupid, but believably so, and that's a really tough line to walk, and it takes a lot of talent to play that dumb that well.

  3. I really liked this. I never expected it to be better than the original, but I'm very excited for part 3 now.

    1. If all of them are roughly this good, I'm in for the series for as long as it wants to go.