Glass onion is a period piece from 20 years in the future
In a lot of ways this movie feels like it was made in the past few weeks rather than the past few years.
The original Knives Out is one of my favorite movies of the past five years. It feels clever and deceptive without feeling pretentious, it’s a mostly smart movie that doesn’t feel the need to constantly tell you how smart it is, and it somehow makes a character puking on somebody a climactic moment, truly A+ stuff.
All that said is it perfect? No, it’s definitely not. Writer/Director Rian Johnson isn’t exactly subtle with his social commentary and there’s definitely a few moments in the movie that take you out of the story. How the Thrombey family treats Marta is pretty on the nose, (Jaden Martells Alt-right character basically announces to the audience ‘We are racist and think Hispanics should be servants!’) and there’s a couple setups that are pretty obvious (Christoper Plummers character somehow equating life experience to not being able to tell if a knife is real or not) but it’s excusable movie bullshit. Ultimately if i was reviewing knives out I’d give it a 8.5/10
Glass Onion is better in pretty much every way.
Since this is a mystery movie I’ll do the spoiler free section of the review first and then give you a big warning when the spoilers start. Trust me, if you haven’t seen this movie do not read spoilers beforehand, you will rob yourself of so much fun.
As in the first movie this one also features a dynamite cast and great performances across the board. Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Edward Norton and Janelle Monae are the big players in the movie but I also can’t forget about Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline and a great lineup of cameos that keep the movie fresh.
The basic plot of this movie is that billionaire genius Miles Bron (Norton) has sent out weekend getaway invitations via puzzle boxes to his group of old friends: Claire (Hahn) the Governor of Connecticut running for senate, Lionel (Odom) the head researcher for Alpha, Bron’s company, Birdie (Hudson) a supermodel turned fashion designer, and Duke (Bautista) an ‘Alpha Male’ influencer and lifestyle guru. Also receiving invitations are Andi (Monae) Bron’s ex-business partner, and Blanc himself, who has no connection to anyone and is surprised to be invited.
Arriving at Bron’s private island the group is told by the billionaire that he misses seeing his friends and that the rise of the covid pandemic has left him feeling bored. So he has planned out a ‘murder mystery’ themed game to be played on his island where the guests must figure out who killed Miles, and why.
For my spoiler free section i can tell you that all the actors in this movie are fantastic and work well together as this group of successful wannabe misfits. Bautista in particular really shows an impressive subtlety in parts of his character that fits the vibe of the movie. I really think he’s on the career path that we all wish The Rock had taken before he decided to play himself in every movie. He shows both an anger and false bravado in his character that is all the more effective thanks to his physicality and really makes you wonder what other movies he could make. As far as the wrestler-to-actor transition goes I think hes already made the most interesting career choices and I’m excited to see him in more non-Drax parts.
Many reviews of this movie have singled out Monae as being the best of the cast and I don’t know if I would go that far. But she is really good, and definitely has the most difficult part in the movie and pulls it off which is awesome to watch. Hudson really kills as the fake enlightened Birdie and her chemistry with Henwick as the young assistant trying to save her dumb arrogant rich boss are some of the funniest parts in the movie. Odom and Hahn are good but their characters feel a little flat and boring by comparison to everyone else, i thought the movie was going to go in a direction where Claire and Lionel have been having an affair for years but no, just not as much to their characters. Norton is fantastic as the ‘relatable’ ‘sensitive’ billionaire and its really the last hour where he’s let loose on the movie that shows his best work.
Really, in my own opinion, the best performance in this movie is Craig’s work as Blanc. He’s much more of a main character in this movie as compared to the first and it’s really nice to watch Craig in a movie where it’s clear he really likes his character. He makes Benoit feel like a classic movie sleuth while also feeling at home in the modern world. Craig does the work of making the audience invested in the story because we want to see what Benoit will do, how he’ll solve the case, and how he’ll just embarrass whoever thought they could outwit him. He’s also easy to root for because unlike the recent trend of ‘smartest one in the room’ characters being complete dicks Benoit is kind and easygoing to just about everyone he meets. He has his quirks (like his hatred of Clue) but it’s very easy to see how both someone could trust him enough to confide in him and also think of him as a joke who can be fooled.
And, best of all, there’s no. Traumatic. Backstory.
Rain Johnson fully understands what people want to see in movie sleuths, and that we really don’t care what Benoits childhood was like, or what drove him to be a detective. The most we learn about him is that he is in a domestic partnership (featuring one of the great cameos of the movie) with another man and that he loves his job, that’s it.
(And I have to say, im so happy that the smartest character in this movie has a regional accent, i don’t care if it ‘sounds ridiculous’ or ‘unrealistic’ I just love it. Smart people don’t all sound the same and we need more geniuses that sound like they’re from Brooklyn, or Alaska, or Texas. More smart people with accents in movies please)
Continuing the spoiler free part of this review I’ll say that the script for this movie is a true banger and, i think, better than the original. Like i said earlier the first movie had some clunky bits of dialogue and pretty obvious social commentary and I didn’t feel that way at all watching this movie. Is it more subtle? Not really but it just worked better in this movie as opposed to the first. Maybe because the commentary in this movie isn’t as widely held as the first movie, maybe because it’s so timely, or maybe because the target of that commentary is so deserving, it just really works well. It’s full of great lines and little character moments that tell you everything you need to know about these people. Even something as simple as how each character wears a mask tells you how they each see theme selves, and how they think they should be seen by others.
The big twist of Glass Onion is that all the twists are stupid.
Blanc solves Bron’s ‘murder mystery’ game (that he apparently hired Gillian Flynn to create) in about 40 seconds, leaving him petulant and mad at now facing a ruined weekend. The others feel the same way and start drinking and trying to entertain themselves, until Duke suddenly collapses and dies. His symptoms and death suggest poison and we see that he actually drank out of a glass meant for Bron, someone actually tried to murder him. Right as everyone seems ready to lose control the power goes out and the group scatters around the island. Blanc attempts to find Bron but runs into Andi, who is then shot and killed by an unknown figure. The remaining guests all discover Blanc at the scene and seem in shock.
And it’s here where the whole movie turns on it’s head.
‘Andi’ is not exactly who she says she is. In fact ,it is Andi’s twin sister Helen. Andi has been dead for a few days in an apparent suicide but Helen doesn’t buy it, she firmly believes her sister was murdered. Helen has hired Blanc to find her sisters killer and he has come up with a plan to have Helen pose as her sister and be his secret partner on the island.
We learn then that Miles didn’t create anything about Alpha, Andi did. She sketched out the whole thing on a napkin in their favorite bar (the Glass Onion). All the ‘friends’ we’ve met were Andi’s friends first and all were losers, then Miles met Andi and started bankrolling their endeavors. Miles’ money is their life support and they all essentially work for him, except Andi that is.
Andi refuses to direct Alpha’s resources towards researching and developing a new and dangerous energy source called Klear so Miles sues her for control of the company. Andi is unable to find the napkin and all her former friends back Miles. Andi is kicked out of the company she started. When she later finds the napkin she lets all her ‘friends’ know that she will take them down, and only days later she’s dead in an apparent suicide.
Now with the information Ive given you, ask yourself this: which one of the characters has the means and motive to kill Andi? You can’t say ‘all of them’, pick one.
Did you pick Miles Bron?
I said earlier in this review that Rian Johnson’s writing is not subtle, and that it was a criticism I had of the first movie. When the Thrombeys loudly proclaim to everyone how awful and racist they are it takes me out of the movie. But when he makes Benoit Blanc the mouthpiece for his thoughts in this movie, it’s awesome.
When Blanc gathers the remaining characters in Bron’s house he confesses that this case has really confounded him. But it’s confounded him because he was expecting it to be difficult. As he states to the group:
“You see, I expected complexity. I expected intelligence. I expected a puzzle, a game. But that's not what any of this is. It hides not behind complexity, but behind mind-numbing, obvious clarity. Truth is, it doesn't hide at all. I was staring right at it.”
Who killed Andi?
“His dock doesn't float. His wonder fuel is a disaster. His grasp of disruption theory is remedial at best. He didn't design the puzzle boxes. He didn't write the mystery. Et voila! It all adds up. The key to this entire case. And it was staring me right in the face. Like everyone in the world, I assumed Miles Bron was a complicated genius. But why? Look into the clear centre of this glass onion. Miles Bron is an idiot!”
Bron poisoned Duke when Duke showed him news of Andi’s death, he shot Helen right in front of Blanc mere minutes after Blanc had mentioned how Bron put himself in danger.
“It's like putting a loaded gun on the table, and turning off the lights.”
In effect, he stole Blancs idea and made it seem like his own, which is what people like Bron always do.
It’s very, very obvious from this movie that Rian Johnson has long thought that Elon Musk (and those who hold him as some kind of genius who deserves his wealth) is a complete clown. Not to mention an idiot and snake.
Glass Onion is all about the most powerful people in the world, and the terrifying truth that most of them are complete morons. We want to believe that people who have it all have somehow ‘earned it’. They must be smart, have discovered some new truth, or be charming enough to ingratiate themselves in all circles. But that is very rarely, if ever, the truth. Far more often they are an Elon type figure: someone born into wealth, who buys into successful ideas rather than creating his own, who is considered a genius thanks to his presence beside those ideas, and then when examined just a second or two longer than usual is revealed to be a petulant man child who desperately wants to be cool.
When you’ve lived your whole life on rookie difficulty you eventually come to a decision. You either can accept that you don’t need to put any effort forward in life, or you can make up challenges and obstacles for yourself to overcome. With these imaginary foes set up your life now has a purpose, and you now have a reason to get up in the morning. In the movie’s case Bron has convinced himself and his group that they are ‘disrupters’, people who have gone against ‘the system’. They’ve told truths and pushed back against societal norms, they’re leaders. And ‘the system’ is terrified of them.
Birdie Jay: Like Miles said, I'm a truth teller. Some people can't handle it.
Benoit Blanc: It's a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth. Don't you think?
Birdie Jay: Are you calling me dangerous?
Benoit Blanc: We'll see.
In the real world Elon has joined the crusade against ‘wokeness’ and now shouts about how he and others like him are being silenced, how they’re being forced to use pronouns for theme selves, how the only way to fight back against a vaccine that secretly contains nano chips is to listen to Elon. And maybe in a few years let him put a neurochip in your brain.
It’s that same, desperate search for meaning that Bron shows in this movie. His big goal is to one day be mentioned in the same breath as the Mona Lisa. He wants to be remembered as a great man, not just as a rich one. Unfortunately for him though, as Blanc points out, Bron doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t create anything successful, he doesn’t understand concepts he claims inspire him, he even makes up words to sound intelligent. It would be a tragic tale of unhappiness if he didn’t shrug off the lives he has destroyed. Likewise, Elon’s big goal seems to be being seen as a cool and funny guy by the masses, a billionaire genius, someone who is leading the future. In short, he wants to be seen as what he was called for years, the real life Tony Stark. It would be respectable and touching if it wasn’t coming from someone who claims to be free speech until someone criticizes him, who buys friends to tell him he’s cool, and who spends billions of dollars just to get back at the people who call him a loser.
How should we deal with these losers? Watch this if you want to see what Rian Johnson thinks we should do. It’s the most satisfied I’ve felt leaving a movie since Inglorious Basterds
© 2022 Matt Evangelisto