Glass Onion (United States, 2022)

November 24, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Glass Onion Poster

Having recently given up one franchise (the James Bond one), Daniel Craig wasted no time jumping feet-first into another. Although Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, which introduced Craig as super-sleuth Benoit Blanc, arrived in theaters in advance of No Time to Die, the one-off murder mystery didn’t become a series until after Craig was done with 007. Glass Onion (full clunky title: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery), made with Netflix money, is the second chapter of what is now a proposed trilogy. If the third film does well, more may be forthcoming. In general, Craig seems to enjoy playing Blanc more than Bond, in large part because of the chasm of physicality between the two characters.

Glass Onion may not be better than its predecessor but it’s in the same neighborhood. Although returning only one cast member (Craig), many of the structural elements have been retained. The movie skews a little more toward comedy than Knives Out and the whodunnit? aspects aren’t as forcefully emphasized. The witty dialogue and narrative twists are strengths and Blanc remains a blank slate. He’s the main character but we know little about him (outside of a few background snippets revealed during the earlier story); the only new bit of information offered by Glass Onion is that he’s bad at the game of Clue!

Glass Onion doesn’t attempt to replicate Knives Out, although it uses the conceit of repeating and “filling in” scenes with new information. In this case, the main storyline is mostly completed shortly past the running time’s midpoint. Johnson then rewinds events back to the beginning and shows all the things lost in the cracks and/or not properly emphasized the first time around. This allows the viewer to organically recognize who the culprit is and why/how they did it. It’s a more satisfying approach than Hercule Poirot’s standard “gather all the suspects together and unveil the guilty party” (although Kenneth Branagh has done a good job with that in his recent Poirot adaptations).

The movie begins with various characters receiving puzzle boxes that contain invitations to an ultra-swanky party presided over by billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Everyone invited to his private island for the event has a strong past connection with him except one: Benoit Blanc, who is on hand to solve the “mystery” that Miles has promised to be the centerpiece of the gathering. Also in attendance are a governor (and senate candidate), Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn); a science teacher, Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.); a model-turned-entrepreneur, Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), and her assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick); Internet influencer Duke (Dave Bautista) and his main squeeze, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline); and Miles’ one-time partner, Andi Brand (Janelle Monae). It goes without saying that at least one of these invitees won’t be returning to the mainland with the next low tide and that the miscreant is among the survivors.

Glass Onion is funnier than almost any other 2022 film (even those marketed as pure comedies) and more entertaining than many of the bloated would-be blockbusters dotting the release schedule. Johnson has no political ax to grind and his scripts play to the strengths of his actors. Craig in particular is delightful. He has no stunts to perform and allows a more relaxed, comedic aspect to shine through. We’ve seen this side of him before but it suits him now that he’s into his mid-fifties.

The “guest cast” is comprised of recognizable names in top form. It’s a credit to the screenplay that no one upstages the others and everyone is given at least one big scene. Johnson has assembled an impressive array of cameos, a few of which are of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them variety. They include Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury (in their final screen appearances), Ethan Hawke, Hugh Grant, Natasha Lyonne, and Serena Williams (among others).

With an eye toward both maximizing revenue and qualifying for Oscar nominations, Netflix has orchestrated an unprecedented wide release for the film prior to its streaming availability. The one-week limited window (which runs from November 23 through November 29, 2022) provides access to those who prefer to see the film in a theater and/or want to see it a month before it drops on Netflix. The wave of the future? Whether or not that’s the case, this is hands-down the best high-profile, crowd-pleaser that Netflix has ever released. It delivers, which hasn’t been the case with the likes of Red Notice and The Grey Man. It makes me yearn to see more of Benoit Blanc and experience what other deliciously serpentine stories Johnson has hidden up his sleeves. After enduring one pointless sequel after another, it's refreshing to be able to make that claim. Glass Onion is a late year present from a director who rarely disappoints.

Glass Onion (United States, 2022)

Run Time: 2:20
U.S. Release Date: 2022-11-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Mystery/Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1