“Glass Onion’s” clarity serves as a boon and detriment



While in many respects a great follow-up movie, “Glass Onion,” the sequel to “Knives Out,” tries to live up to its predecessor, but ultimately fails due to its hackneyed, simplistic ending.

Standing in a Hydrogen-powered, breathtakingly modernized space adorned with glass sculptures and a remarkable view of the Aegean Sea, Detective Benoit Blanc (Bond star Daniel Craig) apprehensively repeats an adage about “glass onions:” though ostensibly convoluted, their meanings are actually right in front of us, easily apparent.

Such an adage is emblematic of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” the Rian Johnson-directed murder mystery that debuted on Netflix on Friday, Dec. 23. Employing Johnson’s signature comedic-dramatic writing and uniquely refined performances from its A-list cast, its sprawling, grand effects and subtle implications are antithetical to the nature of its reveal, which, frankly, is frustratingly simplistic.

The mystery, set in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, follows billionaire entrepreneur Miles Bron (Edward Norton of 1999’s “Fight Club”), who invites his friends to his private island for a murder mystery party. They include the fictional Governor of Connecticut and Senate hopeful Claire Debella (“Wandavision’s” Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel Toussaint (“Hamilton’s” Leslie Odom, Jr.), former supermodel Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson of 2000’s “Almost Famous”), chauvinist YouTuber Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and Cassandra “Andi” Brand (the uber-talented Janelle Monáe), Miles’ ostracized business partner who is on the verge of exposing him for stealing her intellectual property,

Unbeknownst to the socialites, Detective Blanc has been hired to investigate a murder committed the prior week, which he believes was the work of one of said socialites. He slyly investigates, scurrying around Miles’ island and collecting motives for each guest, all while navigating the unexpected and chill-inducing death of one (an indication that he has a serial killer on his hands…).

Now, I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge that “Glass Onion” has enormous shoes to fill. “Knives Out” featured an excellent ensemble, in addition to sharp social commentary concerning wealth, privilege and the impact of losing both. Yet, its ambience was not one of intense action or high stakes; rather, it felt almost like a geode, quiet yet intrinsically beautiful.

“Glass Onion” largely meets and transcends the expectations set by its predecessor. Its ensemble, particularly Craig and Monáe, enjoys a strong chemistry, manifesting in the natural flow of dialogue featured in almost every scene. It also highlights the effect of privilege and power imbalances on relationships. Although the film introduces the characters (aside from Blanc, of course) under the pretense of friendship with Miles, their relationships are anything but. Rather, Miles, who holds significantly more social capital, wealth and connections, uses his resources to coerce the others into his beck and call. (It’s worth noting that, as a parody of the ever-controversial Elon Musk, Miles’ presence in the film doubles as a commentary on insanity disguised as genius and futurism.)

I must also mention the humor “Glass Onion” employs. From thoughtful parodies of former President Trump’s suggestion that Americans inject bleach into their systems to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to laugh-out-loud one-liners and quips, “Glass Onion” is a masterclass in seamlessly melding comedy and drama in a film.

However, the stakes of “Glass Onion” feel significantly, maybe even inappropriately, higher than those of “Knives Out.” From slow-motion, mid-air dives to grand explosions, it seemingly carries itself as a big-box action flick within a witty, refined mystery. Although this is not necessarily problematic, it is in direct contrast to the slightly stale ending this film offers.

The ending, simply put, did not suffice. Compared to the elaborate, winding tale spun at the end of “Knives Out,” it felt extraordinarily dull, half-baked and lazy. Given that the film utilizes pomp and circumstance to define and further the vast majority of its plot, how could Johnson craft an ending that was of an exponentially different nature? Yes, it did encapsulate the meaning of a “glass onion,” but at a detriment to its enjoyability! And what kind of tradeoff is that?

Allow me to clarify one crucial idea: “Glass Onion” is an excellent movie, more thoughtful and well-crafted than most of this year’s offerings. Like its predecessor, it is nearly unparalleled thematically and cinematographically. But when we peel it layer by layer, we find a movie that revels in its complex, intricate moments and suffers from the very ideal it seeks to spotlight: obviousness.