Lighter in tone and shot in vivid colors, though failing to provide a similar intellectual satisfaction to the audience as the first film in the franchise did, Glass Onion is the second installment in the Knives Out saga that began in 2019 when Rian Johnson wrote and directed a modern whodunit with a spin, winning the hearts of the genre's devotees and setting an example for other filmmakers who aspire to revive this, more or less outmoded, movie type. Johnson's film can be seen as another addition to the recent "anti-capitalist" trend in movieland, in the same vein to past year's productions such as the irreverent Menu by Mark Mylod and the Triangle of Sadness by the Swedish director Ruben Östlund. This latest vogue in cinema aims to expose the corruption and banality that is teeming among the most privileged echelons of Western societies in a manner that feels closer to a black comedy rather than a socially-aware production intending to illustrate the malfeasance within those cycles. If Knives Out thematically dealt with the perils and callowness of inherited wealth, the second part turns its full attention to the hypocrisy and backstabbing in the world of the nouveau riche. The characters' vocations are telling enough: social media influencers, leveraged politicians, crony scientists, and tech entrepreneurs with a vastly inflated ego swirl around the screen and often make the audience laugh with their insincerity and duplicity.
Daniel Craig reprises the role of supersleuth Benoit Blanc, an odd personage whom we all loved in the first film. The character owes its special fictional actuality to the fruitful collaboration between director, Rian Johnson, and actor, Daniel Craig. Bob Ducsay, the film's editor and a longtime associate of Johnson, says about Blanc: "I love Benoit and I love Daniel's interpretation of ... I mean, he created the character with Rian's words" (for Ducsay's full interview click here). Blanc is an idiosyncratic gumshoe whose frequently goofy behavior can be easily misinterpreted as naivete, or even plain idiocy, and he can be perceived as a character that stands right in the middle between Agatha Christie's notorious Hercule Poirot and Pink Panther's hilarious Inspector Clouseau, though Johnson's creation feigns obliviousness in order to achieve a greater goal. Nevertheless, the effect remains comical and the audience is bound to laugh with the protagonist's reactions in several parts of the story. The movie also casts several heavy names in the movie industry such as Edward Norton and Kate Hudson while it also features fresh talents with Janelle Monáe, a musician, recording artist, and model getting for the first time in her career the chance to illustrate her skills as a comedian in a "double" role and I won't get into details about that as it would spoil a major part of the plot.
The story is divided into three main parts (beginning/setting, midsection/reverse, final part/solution), with the second one being the most critical as it compels the audience to proceed to a full reset and re-evaluate the story and the characters as presented theretofore. It is a bold decision by the director and screenwriter to insert such a momentous upending in the plot and that is one of the most important elements separating Glass Onion from its predecessor. The story's structure consists of puzzles within puzzles with the titular "Glass Onion" being the dominating image/metaphor defining the film's tone, replacing that of the halo of knives, an icon so prominent in Knives Out. The multi-layered "onion" manifests itself on-screen in two sizes: one microscopic and one macroscopic. The former precedes the latter as it is in the beginning of the movie that we watch as tech-billionaire Miles Bron (E. Norton) sends a wacky invitation to his friends in the form of a puzzle box that contains several more puzzles along the way. Production designer Rick Heinrichs says about that box: "It opens and reveals itself (...) but it only gives up its mysteries as you figure it out. Like the mystery that's going on in the film it's ever-opening and ever-changing" (for the full interview click here). Heinrichs is the man who designed the onion-shaped cupola that was placed, through VFX, on top of the Aman's Resort Villa in Porto Heli, Greece. He says about his creation: "There was something so cool and architectural about it, that it became part of the design. You really see the layers of depth in the dome".
The story begins when a group of friends receive the aforementioned weird invitation by their billionaire tech entrepreneur friend Miles Bron, a man who excels at challenging the wits of others as the odd proposal clearly illustrates. They all welcome the possibility for a vacation weekend at Bron's private island resort in Greece. Benoit Blanc, who is struggling with the lack of mind-stimulating cases during the period of the first Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, also receives the mystery box and arrives in Greece where he meets the motley group of Bron's friends, whom he calls "the Disruptors", a terms of the host's making which vaguely refers to a group of people who have the potential to capsize the existing status quo in several different fields of social, political, and scientific life in a worldwide scope. Bron's intention is to play a game that involves his own fake "death" with the guests assuming the role of the detective, trying to solve the mystery on the course of the weekend. Sadly for Bron, Blanc solves the riddle from the get go, leaving the tech mogul dumbfounded as well as severely irritated. However, as I am sure you can all imagine, a real murder is about to take place in the secluded resort and Blanc will be, once again, the man who is going to save the day and reveal the identity of the culprit, in the final part where he delivers a Poirot-like explanation of the murdered to the gathered audience.
The main flaw of the story is that the villain is easy to identify even from the beginning and the reasoning that explains the whos and whys of the murder come across as rather vapid. It is a far weaker story than that featured in the first film and that is the prevalent assessment in the vast majority of the film's online reviews. In the conclusion of her review which was published on December 23, 2022 on rogerebert.com, Christy Lemire writes: "Ultimately, though, the giant glass onion that rests atop Miles' mansion becomes an all-too-apt metaphor for the movie as a whole. Sparkling but empty" (for the full review click here). While it may be too harsh a judgement, Lemire's denouement points out the simple and indisputable fact that Glass Onion is definitely not the sharpest filmic whodunit ever made. In fact, its story and plot are average, however the other qualities of the productions deem watching the movie an easy and enjoyable task. Cinematographer Steve Yeldin takes full advantage of the sun-drenched Greek scenery, offering a brighter photography than expected for a film of this particular genre. Costume designer Jenny Eagan adds further quirkiness to the characters with her apt attire choices while the sound design by Josh Gould is spot-on. Janelle Monáe, who in her short spanned career so far has delivered exemplary performances, and Kate Hudson steal the show as far as performances are concerned, with Daniel Craig solidly leading the cast as he did in Knives Out. Even though this one is not as unmissable as its precursor was, it still remains an entertaining choice for crime fiction aficionados. Recommended, on the condition that you will watch it without setting your expectations too high.