It’s been three years since Rian Johnson re-invented the “whodunnit” genre with Knives Out (2019). It was funny, it was intricate, it had an all-star cast, and it was nothing like what the audience expected. Lest I speak too highly of it, it’s the perfect murder mystery.
So it’s no surprise that, when a sequel was announced, fans were chomping at the bit for more. World-renowned detective Benoit Blanc could very well launch his own franchise—but Knives Out isn’t an easy act to follow. Can the sequel live up to the expectations?
Glass Onion follows Benoit Blanc on a new mystery—a secluded island full of wealthy and powerful friends gathered to play a murder-mystery game. When the game gets too real, Blanc will have to decide which of these so-called friends have turned on the others.
While it’s only my opinion, I’m not hyperbolizing the perfection of Knives Out. On top of being funny, interesting, and compelling, the storytelling was airtight. There’s hardly a stitch out of place—from the character you thought was just comedic relief to the throwaway line you didn’t catch the first time. Even Chris Evans’ iconic cable-knit sweater has an intricate backstory. It’s a puzzle, and every piece has its place. Or, as Blanc would say, the donut hole fills the donut’s hole and makes the donut whole.
Glass Onion is…not that.
The plot is certainly intricate, and it has another amazing cast of actors and characters. The film even plays with time in the same way as Knives Out, using flashbacks and recalls to reveal details at the right time. But where Knives Out feels like a tricky story, Glass Onion feels like a story that’s trying to trick you. There are red herrings, missing information, and straight up lies. There’s no gaping donut-hole-shaped hole, but enough pinpricks that the story starts to feel a little flimsy.
At the same time, Glass Onion seems to know that about itself. Before the mystery game begins, Miles Bron (Edward Norton) gives a speech about the clues he’s laid out. He tells his guests that there are hints all over the island, some of which are specifically intended to mislead them. Which ones point to the truth is up to them, and in turn, the film’s audience.
There’s something else that Glass Onion is lacking, and that’s a cohesive moral. One of the best parts of Knives Out was its varied way of driving home one, single point: money corrupts. No matter what the characters said, no matter how they acted or presented themselves, each of them was desperate to keep their money; and desperate people do dangerous things.
Technically speaking, the theme of Glass Onion is also that money corrupts, but this time around, the moral seems slightly out of focus. Yes, these characters are wealthy. Yes, they’ve committed egregious wrongs. Yes, they’ll turn on a dime to protect themselves. Yet the film’s ending doesn’t feel as conclusive in condemning them. The big finish leaves a lot of gray area for some of these characters, who may or may not get what’s coming to them after the credits roll. There’s also a lot of dramatics which, frankly, bend the laws of physics and shouldn’t be possible. So be prepared to suspend your disbelief for a bit.
The moral might not be important to some, but for me, it was a key ingredient in what made Knives Out so good. Maybe my standards are too high after watching The Menu (2022), which absolutely nailed its moral concept. You can read our review of that film on here.
At the end of the day, the make-or-break of this film is how you choose to watch it. In a theater, there’s nothing you can do to control the story. Just like the characters, you’re along for the ride and only get to see what’s being presented to you. I’ll certainly watch Glass Onion again, just as I rewatched Knives Out to see what I’d missed the first time.
But many fans won’t be watching in a theater. While Glass Onion has a limited release now, its primary release will be streaming on Netflix. That complicates things. It’s not a matter of quality, the way some films “were made to be seen on the big screen,” but functionality. Streaming from home, you can pause the movie to collect your thoughts. If you miss a line, you can rewind and watch it again. If you have a theory, you can go back to check your facts before continuing.
Tempting as it may be, I recommend hiding your remote for your first watch of Glass Onion. When you have total control, the story will either make much more sense or no sense at all. On the other hand, when I got home from the theater, I spent twenty minutes pacing my kitchen trying to review the facts. I don’t think I’ll find answers to all my questions, but I’ll let you know after my rewatch.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is out in select theaters now, and will be available to stream on Netflix on December 23, 2022.