Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery ★★1/2
Updated: Dec 31
Availability: Streaming on Netflix; see JustWatch here; was in theaters for one week at end of November, currently showing in one theater in Los Angeles (Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema), unclear when it will be in other theaters; at this time, there is no planned wide release in theaters.
Edward Norton is ideal as the cocky but flawed Miles Bron, an Elon Musk knock-off. A corrupt, cloying Silicon Valley culture is the target of award-winning director and writer Rian Johnson’s second, elaborately plotted murder mystery. Bron is as arrogant as he is stupid (his malapropisms give him away) and is surrounded with acolytes who “suck at his titties,” evoking those flitting around techno-golden boy celebrities Musk, Zuckerberg, Gates, Bezos, and one time WeWork boss Adam Neumann. Bron channels Zuckerberg’s “move fast and break things” mantra, calling his friends “the disrupters” and blathering on about “breaking things.” Things will be broken.
Right, Daniel Craig is detective
Benoit Blanc and Janelle Monáe
is "Andi," who will join him in
sleuthing. Craig and Monáe
are two of the better actors
in this disappointing sequel.
Things will be broken.
The setting is a Greek island owned by Bron, to which he has invited his “friends” who were present at the founding of his Alpha company. (There’s even an Alpha car. Despite the absence of roads on the island, a car will play a role). The island’s over-the-top, multi-level estate is capped with an enormous glass onion-shaped structure, referencing the name of the ordinary bar where the friends all met years ago and Alpha got its start (one of the better scenes is a flashback to the bar). The compound features technological wonders, including robots (no need for employees, who would dilute the group) and a high-tech system of protection for the Mona Lisa, which Bron has on loan from the Louvre. Big toys for big boys. And a lot of glass.
Big toys for big boys.
Travelling in a private yacht to the island are Duke (Dave “The Animal” Bautista), a muscle-bound Twitch influencer peddling rhino-horn testosterone; Claire (Kathryn Hahn), a governor who couldn’t possibly govern; Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), an aged-out model turned fashion promoter; Lionel (Leslie Odom, Jr.), the scientific brain propping up Bron; and Cassandra Brand, aka “Andi” (Janelle Monáe), the co-founder who was shut out in Zuckerberg/Winklevoss twins fashion.
Above, the ensemble cast of mostly caricatures attentive to detective Blanc's (Daniel Craig, at right) Sherlock Holmes-like analysis of their situation. Elon Musk-type Miles Bron (Edward Norton), left, thinks he's in charge.
It’s the nasty, influence-driven world of social media.
The friends play out the Silicon Valley trope with their various needs—mostly money, “followers,” and “branding.” It’s the nasty, influence-driven world of social media. And when Bron threatens to withhold money or expose wrong-doing (a Bangladesh sweatshop), they all have reason to kill him: Lionel, because he thinks Bron may unleash a new energy source on the world to disastrous consequences (shades of Bond films); and Andi, who has been “Social Networked” by Bron. Her term for the “disrupters” is “shitheads,” which is about as racy as the film’s language gets.
Duke (Dave "The Animal" Bautista), right,
is one of the hangers-on
to billionaire Miles Bron
Enter super-detective Benoit Blanc, an engaging Daniel Craig, playing both a bit of Bond and a bit against his Bond-type (he’s “only” a detective, he doesn’t do the dirty work). The faux Southern accent is as annoying as it was in the prequel. Blanc’s modest approach to his job leaves room for Andi to take on an active role as a sleuth (and perhaps be his side-kick in “Knives Out 3”), but it also, curiously, results in the star detective sitting on a bench far from the final action.
The boardgame “Clue” in overdrive.
The take-down of social media is enjoyable, though not nearly as funny as the devastating commentary on celebrity in the opening 20 minutes of “The Prom” (2020). The machinations of the plot, Johnson’s hallmark in the two “Knives Out” movies, are mildly entertaining, though excessive—the boardgame “Clue” in overdrive. There are plenty of “plants” (watch for the Fibonacci sequence and the fax machine) but not enough to suggest that one might profitably participate in figuring out “whodunnit.”
The rest of the cast, presenting a mélange of pathetic eccentrics on the make, is disappointing.
Norton, Craig, and Monáe carry the film. The rest of the cast, presenting a mélange of pathetic eccentrics on the make, is disappointing. One reason may be that Johnson’s second “Knives Out Mystery” didn’t pull in the stars that studded the first. Apologies to the others, but they are not Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Stanton, Christopher Plummer, Ana de Armas or LaKeith Stanfield (“Knives Out” 2019). Odom and Hudson, who approach star power, are wasted in their roles. If you blink, you’ll miss cameos that include Serena Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Stephen Sondheim.
One of the better scenes is a flashback to the Glass Onion bar where the "friends" first met and developed Alpha company. From left, Leslie Odom, Jr. as Lionel, Janelle Monáe as Andi, and Edward Norton as Miles Bron in his long-hair era.
Most disappointing, the revenge isn’t good enough, or, rather, isn’t bad enough. One longs for Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood" (2019), with its bashing of heads and poolside flame thrower. Maybe Johnson was protecting his PG rating. Whatever the reason, justice fails to be served.
At best, Johnson has assembled three fine actors and a number of B-level ones for an overly complex story with gyrations and twists and turns, all heightened by—even overwhelmed by—glitzy technology, location spectacle, and silly characters not far removed from vaudeville. Meanwhile, he entertains us with not-quite-clever-enough takes on social media. Enjoy the first hour; even with its weaknesses, it’s the best of the 2:20.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom, Jr., Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, Serena Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Stephen Sondheim
Country: United States
Runtime: 140 minutes
Other Awards: 18 wins and 65 other nominations (many for Monáe as supporting actress and Johnson for best adapted screenplay—adapted from characters he created)