Coming off the smashing success of “Knives Out,” writer and director Rian Johnson missed the mark with the sequel “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” relying on spectacle over the quality of the mystery.
“Knives Out” was well received when it came out in 2019, featuring great chemistry between the actors, thought-provoking social and racial commentary and a compelling mystery. The film’s iconic ending image of the main character Marta drinking from the coffee mug as she looked down at the defeated Drysdale family remained in the audience’s minds well after the screen went dark. “Glass Onion” attempted to replicate the success of the first by including different quirky characters, a different form of commentary and a multi-layered mystery; however, the passion seemed lost on the cast as the story clumsily unfolded.
In this new mystery, a group of wealthy celebrities called “The Disruptors” led by the billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) gather for their annual reunion. The reunion’s theme is murder mystery, but things don’t go according to Miles’ plan as Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) appears as well as Miles’ estranged business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe) with unintended invitations to the reunion.
The introduction does its best to bombard the audience with the diverse character introductions. Included in “The Disruptors” group is model-turned-influencer Birdie (Kate Hudson), a family-oriented politician, Claire (Katheryn Hahn), a male-rights YouTuber, Duke (Dave Bautista), a reluctant scientist, Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.) and finally Duke’s girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline).
On the side of the characters, Johnson wanted to present compelling characters who are intentionally imperfect, but with the timing of this twist, the audience is never given a chance to feel close to “The Disruptors” as “Knives Out” did with the Drysdale family. To add mystery and tension, Birdie and Duke shoulder most of the load with Hudson giving her all into the performance and Bautista leaning into the alpha mentality. In contrast, Whiskey is less of a character and more of a plot device that propels the revelations of the mystery. Furthermore, Lionel seemed like a last minute decision to add because he does little more than stand in the background.
The first ten minutes revolve around the solving of five elaborate puzzle boxes that each character has received. In these moments, the audience sits in wonder at the box, which is supposed to represent the performative genius of Miles; however, these scenes are easily forgotten before the conclusion of the film.
Also not memorable for the remaining two hours and ten minutes is the scene of Daniel Craig playing Among Us with his adult coworkers, quarantining in his bathtub at home. Even in an attempt to show a different side to Blanc, this new side is never addressed again and only becomes a feeble push to portray Blanc as a tortured detective suffering from ennui.
From this scene and the next, however, the audience can gather that the film takes place during the pandemic. Naturally, the characters have a miracle pill that makes the characters immune to the virus, which begs the question as to why Johnson decided to address the pandemic at all if it is not integral to the story and will become outdated for future viewers, if there are any.
The story lags for the next hour, even when the murder mystery becomes too real and Duke ends up dead. The remaining celebrities worry about the scandal it would cause to their reputation, marking the first sign of social commentary reminiscent of “Knives Out.” With an hour remaining, the audience has returned to the beginning to learn the “real” story that has been hinted at throughout the first half of the film. Through a series of big reveals and realizations, it turns out that Andi is dead from a supposed suicide, leaving her twin sister Helen (Janelle Monáe) to wonder if it was actually murder. Helen turns to Blanc for help and they embark on the reunion trip together to discover the killer.
The audience then must relive the last hour all over again as the story follows Blanc and Helen from this new perspective.
The plot gets needlessly complicated as it spirals down the drain. As if anyone were actually shocked, Miles is revealed to have killed Andi because she had proof that he, along with all “The Disruptors,” lied in order to steal her half of the company that Miles and her built from the ground up. Miles tries to kill Casandra too, but fails and with it the effect of the mystery does too.
The climax results in everyone destroying everything. Miles destroys the proof that Andi collected. “The Disruptors” partake in the smashing of Miles’ glass sculpture collection. Helen, meanwhile, sets the entire building on fire, destroying Miles’ rented and genuine Mona Lisa painting along with his company’s reputation.
As the film rounds out the last five minutes, “The Disruptors” come to their senses and tell the truth about Miles’ corruption. The final images almost scratch the level of “Knives Out” with Blanc and Helen waiting for the authorities on the beach. The camera zooms in capturing the perfect image of a poised Helen, smiling softly with a secret hidden in her eyes. Even so, the ending did not form the smooth open-ended closure that the first film achieved because the audience wasn’t left wondering about what happened next. There is a happy medium between resolving the conflict of the film and leaving the next step up to the audience’s debate. “Glass Onion” failed to do that, instead resolving in a manner that no one is satisfied with and does not let the audience explore the “what ifs” of the mystery.
Even though it is called “A Knives Out Mystery,” “Glass Onion” is a far cry from the thrilling journey of the first film. It has great moments, but Johnson seems to have bit off far more than he could chew. The “woe is me” commentary about celebrities doing anything to protect what they have does not feel like anything new or untouchable. At the end of the day, this new film is a rollercoaster in the rain; it has all the twists and turns that the audience finds fun in, but it is dampened by too many layers of bad weather and resulted in a disappointing sequel to “Knives Out.”
Written By: Rachel Grace Heckle