By Andrew Warren, Staff Writer
In my twenty-one years of life, I have discussed thousands of movies. I believe only two are universally loved. One is “Shawshank Redemption,” and the other is “Knives Out.” The 2019 mystery film is acclaimed for its unique storytelling, its sharp but not overt social commentary, and its cast, specifically Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc.
It’s no surprise that studios immediately bid on the franchise rights, with Netflix winning at an astonishing $469 million bid. That was only enough to buy them two sequels. The first sequel, “Glass Onion,” is getting a limited theatrical release with a streaming release planned for late December.
“Glass Onion” tells the story of billionaire Miles Braun (Edward Norton), who invites five friends to his private island for a murder mystery party. His friends include Claire (Kathryn Hahn), who is a governor, Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr), a scientist who works for Braun, Birdy Jay (Kate Hudson), a model on the verge of cancellation, Duke (Dave Bautista), a Twitch live streamer, and Andi (Janelle Monae), who isn’t exactly friends with Braun at the moment.
The group refers to themselves as the Disruptors, as they are all successful in their respective fields by “disrupting” their industries.
To Braun’s surprise, one more guest arrives at this party, Detective Benoit Blanc. Braun did not invite him. Who did? And why?
That is the setup and all I’m willing to share. This movie has a lot of surprises that the advertising did a really great job of hiding. Trust me, it does not play out as you would expect.
Let me put your mind at ease right now. The movie is good, but not great. There is a lot that worked for me in this movie and few things that did not. Overall, it was a fun night at the theater, even if I did not leave blown away.
For starters, the cast is not fully utilized. This is surprising, as there are fewer characters in this film than the last, which normally means more screen time per character, adding dimension to the story.
Instead, most of the characters are two-dimensional. The actors do a fine job, but there is not much variety demanded from them.
In the very first scene, each of the characters gets a puzzle box from Braun that they collectively solve over a humorous conference call. This scene serves as an introduction to the different personality types. Each person has their own trait, and then, for the rest of the movie, they just play that trait. There are no layers.
For example, Hudson plays a ditzy, hedonistic airhead and that is all she is. Bautista is a loudmouth, macho guy, and that is all he is. Odom Jr. and Hahn have even less to play with, which is bizarre because they are spectacular actors. Why hire Kathryn Hahn if you’re not going to use her?
There are a few exceptions. Edward Norton makes for a funny, deluded tech billionaire. His performance is especially timely as an Elon Musk parody. Janelle Monae has the Ana De Armas(who played Marta in the original) role in the movie and she does an amazing job bringing the heart to the movie.
Daniel Craig is still amazing in this role. He gets even more to do in this movie than he did in the last. In the first film, he was merely a supporting character in an ensemble movie, but in “Glass Onion” he’s the protagonist. The audience gets to see some of Blanc’s personal life. For the majority of the movie, he’s not even solving a case but rather trying to socialize among the one-percent, which is much different than his scenes in the original. There’s no such thing as too much Benoit Blanc and in that regard this movie surpasses the original.
It is hard to criticize the story without spoiling the film. What I will say is that so much takes place before the crime, but very little takes place afterward, leaving the story somewhat lopsided. The final sequence is wildly unbelievable, in a bad way. So much effort and skillful editing goes into a setup with an awkwardly quick resolution.
It sounds like I hated the movie, but I did enjoy watching it. The dialogue is witty and loaded with foreshadowing. It takes a clever man to write good idiot humor, and Bautista is hysterical while delivering it. The movie is beautifully shot, with each scene framed with intention. Throughout the film, there were numerous instances where the actors were positioned to look directly at the camera as opposed to looking at another actor. Normally when this happens, it is in service of breaking the fourth wall, but in this case it draws the audience in.
When Braun discusses his theories of disruption, I felt like he was talking to me. When the boat arrived at the harbor and the friends were surprised to see Andi, I felt like I was the one being accused. The technique is subtle but very effective.
“Glass Onion” is a well-made, engaging, and entertaining film. Its story has weaknesses that are nearly made up for by the way the story is told. If you are a fan of the first Knives Out, the movie Wrath of Man, or the novel “The Valley of Fear”, then you will like “Glass Onion,” too.