Glass Onion

Glass Onion ★★★

Glass to layer, to conceal, to protect, misdirect, symbolize, shatter. Glass as bombastic architecture, phone screen, protective shield, fragile ego, personalized tumblers— which (like so much else in the film) doubles as both a token of friendly familiarity and potential clue to the secretly unfolding mystery. Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion, sequel to the 2019 hit Knives Out, is bigger, brighter, flashier, crashier, and more brazenly socially reflective than its predecessor. The film sets itself apart with a more visually engaging setting— a sunbaked luxury Mediterranean island— and more fascinating characters, who run the gambit between washed-up model with a proclivity to “accidentally” tweet ethnic slurs (Kate Hudson), to a Twitch-streaming, gun-toting, mens-rights activist hunk (Dave Bautista). Also in the mix are a publicity-minded politician (Kathryn Hahn), a research scientist given rather short shrift (Leslie Odom Jr.), and a mysteriously striking figure (Janelle Monáe) who— to say the least— has a tense relation to their obscenely wealthy host. Each side-character is memorable, although somewhat simplistically unique, with exaggerated, slightly satirical personalities that tend to veer toward the stereotypical. But beneath the surface differences of their well-tanned exteriors, this eccentric band of characters are tied together as blunt, attention-seeking, morally compromised individuals.

Their uber-rich host, Miles Bron (Edward Norton), fondly refers to their group as ‘disruptors,’ but world-renowned detective Benoit Blanc is the true disruptor here— an agent of deductive chaos that unbalances Miles’ meticulously planned weekend. Daniel Craig plays Blanc with a charming yet effortful style, one that shifts from playful to shrewd, casual to careful; a delightful foil to the desperate ostentatiousness of Miles. For Miles is a character of performative “greatness.” When he first saw the Mona Lisa as a young boy, he was immediately entranced by her, her eyes in particular, and so he aspired to one day be mentioned in the same breath as that prestigious masterpiece. Note that he was not inspired to create great art— nor was he truly ensorcelled by the mystery of her eyes: he was infatuated by her sheer popularity.

The painterly ambiguity in the countenance of the Mona Lisa that Miles fails to properly appreciate is also the same error that the film stumbles into. What makes those indescribable eyes so alluring is the way that they are more than one thing at one time; they do not speak aloud what they are, and in this way they acquire emotive space for the viewer to lean into. Glass Onion, on the other hand, does not have Mona Lisa ambiguity, but narratively contrived ambiguity. It is a closed-off circuit of clues, of looping-back, of revealing, explaining, and re-explaining. The control of information is meticulous but also overdone, leading to a stalled pace in the second half, inert scenes of characters standing around espousing, and extra moments explaining details that do not need to be explained.

This environment of information and control extends to the film’s stylistic register, which is contemporary in its social jabs and pandemic-life details. The aesthetic is glossy, pleasantly exaggerated, even slightly cartoony— which is fun but also cuts against the film’s tension and deflates the danger. While Glass Onion is a twisty and entertaining experience, it can also sometimes feel tucked away on its own private island, more a house of mirrors than a house of glass.

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