After delivering a modern whodunnit classic with Knives Out a few years ago, writer/director Rian Johnson captures lightning in a bottle again with Glass Onion, a murder-mystery whose delights somehow surpass its predecessor. Retaining only the steely detective from the first entry, this superior sequel sheds the blustery autumn setting of the original and acclimates to a tropical locale for even bigger twists and laughs this time around. Though Johnson is clearly modeling the style of these films from Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, he’s much more successful in creating his own tantalizing stories than Kenneth Branagh has been at adapting Christie’s books like Death on the Nile from earlier this year. Johnson showcases his love for the classics in the genre while including modern elements that make it feel essential to our current place in history. This is one of 2022’s finest entertainments.
Two months into the covid pandemic, world-class detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is already feeling pent-up and is itching to solve his next great case when one conveniently presents itself in the form of a mystery box that is delivered to his door. The sender is Miles Bron (Edward Norton), the billionaire owner of the Google-like company Alpha, who is hosting a murder-mystery party on his private island near Greece. Other recipients of the invitation package include Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Miles’s ex-business partner Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), along with famous figures like fashionista Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and vlogger Duke Cody (Dave Bautista). Though the game is obviously not supposed to involve an actual murder, it doesn’t take long after the guests arrive on the island for the game to turn into a search for an actual killer.
Many cinematic whodunnits revolve around the strength of their respective ensemble casts and as with Knives Out, Johnson and his team have brought forth a formidable company for Glass Onion. Aside from some cheeky cameos and name drops, the central cast, which also includes up-and-comers like Jessica Henwick and Madelyn Cline, plays beautifully off one another, even when they’re not in the same room. When each of the characters receives their mystery box, they hop on a communal phone call with each other to solve each of the puzzles together to get to the invitation stored inside. As we learn, these people have a long collective history, which provides them each with potential motive to be a murderer but also a potential alibi for wanting the victim to stay alive.
Johnson has penned some terrific scripts in the past but his screenplay for Glass Onion just may be his best so far. Beyond providing a whodunnit that is both rich with structural complexity and yet elegant in its rhetorical simplicity, this film speaks to pressing cultural themes that will resonate with audiences more than any other movie this year. The social separation created by the pandemic, the rise in trickle-up entitlement and façade of celebrity superiority are just a few trends that Johnson weaves within his tale of deceit and betrayal. As one may expect, this is a movie that doubles back on itself multiple times in order to show us different angles from myriad perspectives and give us enough pieces to complete the puzzle. There’s a running joke about Blanc’s resentment for the popular board game Clue but there’s something in all of us that yearns to be a sleuth and Glass Onion satisfies this urge.
Though this film isn’t a straight-ahead comedy, it has some of the best laugh lines of any movie so far this year, regardless of genre. A slow-building revelation between Birdie and her assistant and a pair of outfit choices in a flashback montage are just a couple examples of the film’s funniest moments. Miles’ guests do have aspects in common and areas of similarity but the ways in which they differ create plenty of opportunity to playfully bounce off of one another. The majority of the characters are smart but may have blindspots that limit their intellect, while others are more dim by comparison but have instances of clarity and insight that give them the upper hand when they typically wouldn’t. No matter how smart someone in the movie may or may not be, there’s no denying that Johnson is a mastermind when it comes to telling this sort of constantly-shifting whodunnit that has layers of brilliance ready to peel.
Score – 4.5/5
Movies coming to theaters this weekend:
Babylon, starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, is a period dramedy which chronicles the rise and fall of multiple characters during Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound films in the late 1920s.
Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, is an animated adventure continuing the story of the titular swashbuckling feline fugitive as he sets out on an epic journey to restore all nine of his lives.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody, starring Naomi Ackie and Stanley Tucci, is a musical biopic that takes a look at the life and career of singer and cultural icon Whitney Houston.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup