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'Glass Onion:' 'Knives Out' sequel's layers unfold

Rewards repeat viewings

What made Rian Johnson's 2019 "Knives Out" so much fun is also present in his 2022 "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" sequel on Netflix, in that it can be appreciated on more than one level.

Both films, whose sole shared character is Daniel Craig's master detective Benoit Blanc, are metafictionally unabashed celebrations of the murder-mystery subgenre within murder-mystery stories.

Whereas the petty, feuding family of "Knives Out" was bound together by their common interest in the fortune of their patriarch, mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), the wildly disparate and unrelated-by-blood public figures of "Glass Onion" all began as youthful drinking buddies of future tech billionaire Miles Bron (Ed Norton), who invites them to a reunion years later by tasking them with solving multidimensionally complex puzzle boxes.

Just as the Thrombey family set aside their political differences and relationship drama to unite against Harlan's humble nurse when she unwittingly threatened their inheritance, so too does it take the covert presence of an uninvited interloper, to an island party of Bron's inner circle of peers, to uncover the secret crime at the heart of "Glass Onion."

Because Rian Johnson doesn't just love digging into a substantive mystery; he also relishes any opportunity to comment on class solidarity, as seen in "Knives Out" when the Thrombeys come together to keep Harlan's money and property within the family, and in "Glass Onion" when the diverse cross-section of influential folks within their respective fields recognize how much they continue to depend on Miles Bron's favor and financial support.

Johnson has assembled a rogues gallery of colorfully aberrant personalities to represent contemporary popular culture in "Glass Onion," from Kate Hudson's excessively online (and offensively outspoken) supermodel turned fashion designer, to Dave Bautista's meatheaded "men's rights activist" and streaming media personality.

When coupled with the obscenely opulent island hideaway that all the characters retreat to during the height of the pandemic - yes, this is a peak COVID-era period piece - it can't help but feel like a modern take on Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," as an elaborately staged murder-mystery party game winds up preceding an actual murder.

Daniel Craig is an actor I've grown to respect for his creative choices and spirit of experimentalism over time, and he's clearly having the time of his life playing Benoit Blanc as an over-the-top caricature of an Agatha Christie-style sleuth, laying on a mock-Southern accent as overdone and endearing as David Suchet's ridiculous faux-Belgian accent as Hercule Poirot.

Although I was familiar with Janelle Monáe as a musical artist, I must confess I hadn't seen enough of her work as an actor to have any expectations going into "Glass Onion," but her capacity for nuance and the righteous fire she brings to her linchpin role in the proceedings impressed the heck out of me, and I'll be going through her back catalog of film and TV work with interest.

Kathryn Hahn's left-leaning incumbent state governor and congressional candidate might not contribute much to the plot, but her performance showcases the same Kübler-Ross-style cycle of sarcastic coping that animates so many of her other characters so entertainingly, shifting from judgmental exasperation to craven desperation as each crisis escalates and is compounded.

By contrast, Ed Norton's performance as the self-styled visionary thinker Miles Bron is all too easy to underestimate, because the actor is doing a lot of subtle work under the surface to establish his vainglorious character as shallower than he seems at first glance.

Indeed, without spoiling too much, it's amusing to watch Blanc, who's typically delighted by mysteries, explode into fits of frustrated disappointment over how simple a number of the mysteries in "Glass Onion" are, even as we in the audience realize we've made his same mistakes of overlooking the obvious.

Because while Johnson is hardly the first filmmaker to explicitly villainize the rich, far too many movies about supposedly genius-level tycoons take their claims of their own intelligence at face value, when in fact, the more money someone has, the more money they can pay other people to perform acts of genius on their behalf, which they can then take credit for.

Names like composer Philip Glass, and cameos by real-life celebrities such as Serena Williams, playing themselves, are used briefly but to devastating effect in "Glass Onion," to hammer home how much the ultra-wealthy can essentially borrow the name-brand talents of others, to shine more light on themselves, and make themselves seem artificially brighter.

To address the elephant in the room, given that several other reviewers have already compared Miles Bron to Elon Musk, "Glass Onion" was written two years before Musk purchased Twitter for $44 billion, and yet, as Johnson himself told Wired magazine, "A friend of mine said, 'Man, that feels like it was written this afternoon.' And that's just sort of a horrible, horrible accident, you know?"

Yes, I'm divulging as few details about "Glass Onion" as possible, to maintain its suspense and surprise, which complicates my job as a reviewer, since my goal here is to supply just enough details to credibly recommend this film, but such is the challenge of reviewing any well-constructed mystery.

Without revealing anything else about how this mystery gets resolved, it delivers a satisfying sense of comeuppance for those who have earned it.

Like "Knives Out," key scenes are repeated within the film, so viewers can catch what they missed the first time, but "Glass Onion" still rewards repeat viewings.

Author Bio

Kirk Boxleitner, Reporter

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Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
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