In Rian Johnson’s latest Knives Out mystery, the Glass Onion is as much a metaphor for the nature of the whodunit as it is for the grandeur of the film itself. Resting upon a gorgeous Greek villa (on a billionaire’s private island, no less), the titular emblem is created through a combination of VFX and a practical structure that stands a mighty 20 meters high. Made in the U.K. from all-glass paneling, the Onion’s design was so intricate that it had to be assembled in its birthplace first to ensure that all its pieces fit together, disassembled entirely for its journey to a Serbian studio and then reassembled for the film. This extravagance perfuses beyond budget and set design to inform key elements of the overall work—most notably, its characters, sense of humor and roller coaster narrative. In Glass Onion, everything is more. More jokes. More self-reflexivity. More twists and turns. And, undeniably, more fun.
Peeling back the layers of this campy mystery is none other than Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), “The Last of the Gentlemen Sleuths.” When we’re first reunited with the renowned Southern investigator, he isn’t his usual peppy self. It’s May 2020 and the early days of the pandemic have brought upon a dry spell of new cases. In other words, COVID has hit the detective industry pretty hard. Spirits soar when Blanc is invited to a murder-mystery party on a billionaire’s secluded island, but figuring out how and why he received an invitation proves to be the first of many head-scratchers. From here, he becomes acquainted with the “disruptors,” a mixed bag of eccentric personalities who each have their own motivations for attending the gathering. This ensemble includes unfiltered fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), current Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), mysterious scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), men’s rights influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), wealthy entrepreneur/host Miles Bron (Edward Norton) and Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), his estranged business partner. When murder shapes up to be more than just a silly party theme, it’s up to Blanc to examine the group’s motives, secrets and lies to crack the case.
The product of a nearly half-a-billion-dollar Netflix deal itself, Glass Onion spares no expense in building its elite, high-roller world. The film’s billionaire taste is quickly established through the exquisite villa setting, a colossal six-level estate adorned with glass pianos, priceless artwork and luxury cars. Put frankly, the villa makes the New England manor of Knives Out look like child’s play. This exuberant display of wealth is in keeping with the “Eat the Rich” theme that made its predecessor so timely. In this installment, however, that theme is given a 2022 makeover and its sights are set on those with much deeper pockets.
Enter Bron, an ultra-rich, ultra-narcissistic CEO who has his hands in everything from online media and manufacturing to the disruptors’ livelihoods. Bron is generous to those around him and doesn’t mind backing his friends’ ventures (whether they be in business, entertainment or the political sphere) as long as he receives their unfailing loyalty in return. These transactional relationships lead to internal turmoil and allow the film to make smart observations on the power imbalances between us normal folk and the one-percenters in a manner that doesn’t feel stale or dishonest.
Beyond these proletariat undertones, Glass Onion is simply funny. Comedy is injected into almost every aspect of the feature from its story and dialogue to its very camera movements. An example of this comes during an early sequence where a sneaking detective Blanc takes cover behind a bronze statue to eavesdrop on a partygoer. When he is almost caught, he steps out of frame. Instead of tracking him to his next location or moving on to the following scene, the camera holds its place in front of the statue, filling the frame with a giant bronze bum. The sequence is, of course, incredibly silly and recalls the sort of outrageous humor present in Austin Powers movies, but it’s also effective in establishing tone and showcasing Johnson’s prowess for constructing comedy through visual direction alone.
These absurdly delightful gags are accompanied by a narrative that mirrors their chaos and lightheartedness. Where Knives Out is a straight whodunit, this second installment is more of an adoring parody of the subgenre. From recurring jokes about Clue to the utilization of famous novella tropes, the film dives headfirst into all things murder-mystery. It has multiple puzzles layered onto each other to create a viewing experience jam-packed with revelations and shocks—hence its overarching onion metaphor.
Glass Onion is the kind of crowd-pleasing entertainment that is best experienced in a group setting; whether that means viewing it with an audience during its one-week theatrical release or watching it with loved ones when it hits Netflix next month, the film’s topsy-turvy take on the whodunit is sure to keep you guessing (and laughing).
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline
Release Date: November 23, 2022 (Theatrical), December 23, 2022 (Netflix)
Kathy Michelle Chacón is a Gen-Z writer, academic and filmmaker based in sunny California. When she’s not writing for Paste, Film Cred or Kathychacon.com, you can find her eating pupusas, cuddling with her dog Strawberry or sweating her face off somewhere in the Inland Empire.