Review: Although it’s still setting the pace in terms of quality that other murder mysteries strive for, Netflix’s latest “Knives Out” installment “Glass Onion” feels like a rehashing of every character arch and narrative beat that the original did so much better.
Rian Johnson’s 2019 smash success “Knives Out” attempted to usher in a new era of genre filmmaking and midlevel box office hits. While not being an Oscar-baiting, overly glistening period epic that usually draws the eyes of award voters, “Knives Out” offered a different approach to the style of filmmaking that can still be commercially successful, critically acclaimed, and wholly original. Much like the original, “Glass Onion” attempts to continue this push towards new storytelling.
Helmed by once maligned Rian Johnson and former 007 actor Daniel Craig, “Knives Out” redefined an age-old whodunnit murder mystery genre that now seems to have a new installment every month. But for every ten middling entries in the genre (“See How They Run,” “Death on the Nile,” and “Scream 5” from this year alone) there should always be a new “Knives Out” addition to the world. So for the holiday season this year, Netflix wrapped this present into a neat little package and left it under their streaming service’s Christmas tree for all to open up.
It’s tough to follow up such a tight, clean film like “Knives Out.” It’s straightforward in its storytelling and completely harmless in its delivery – all while injecting a healthy dose of themes regarding class systems and political hostility. “Knives Out” is one of the few openly cynical films that doesn’t overstep its boundaries. There’s a level of grace and subtlety to bleeds through in a film that goes completely over-the-top and sometimes raunchy.
So its sequel, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” was obviously going to try to do the same: live in a modern world without being corny or dated. Those are heavy expectations and obstacles to carry, and at times “Glass Onion” succeeds. The visual spectacle is felt in nearly every shot and setting that this blockbuster streamer takes place in. If “Knives Out” felt colonial, “Glass Onion” feels futuristic. It takes you a second to reposition after seeing the lavish building design and interior decorating that goes into each scene.
Combined with simple plot devices that are both hilarious and shortly lived, “Glass Onion” is a COVID movie without being about COVID. The film mostly takes place on a remote island, so once the plot offers the ability for the masks to come off, we’re off to the races. The timely events can be put to the side and “Glass Onion” can feel as fully contained as Rian Johnson attempts to make it.
And yet, even with the wallpaper and window dressing “Glass Onion” maps over every layer of the film, I couldn’t help but feel at arm’s length with it. The film rarely tackles ideas like classism as effortlessly as the original iteration did, and the pacing faulters because much of “Glass Onion” takes place in flashbacks. It’s a muddier script than the original “Knives Out,” which takes away from what makes the franchise punch deeper than many of its copycats.
“Glass Onion” revolves around the newest murder mystery needing to be solved by the infamous Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) among a cast of uber rich, millennial era media personalities led by Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Their character names are much less important than the acting titans that portray them, namely Dave Bautista, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr.
And then there’s Janelle Monae, which without spoiling, offers an immense amount of volatility that helps keep “Glass Onion” afloat. The film has its issues, but it’s always carried along with deeply effective moments by a character that serves nearly the same purpose as Ana de Armas did in “Knives Out.”
Because, to put it bluntly, they’re basically the same film being repackaged with new actors and actresses. Many of the sloppiest films of 2022 were all passion projects by the visionaries that overlooked their productions. It’s not a surprise that the same “blank check” that was also offered to Rian Johnson landed the same result: a fun and awkward star vehicle that struggles to find its own footing from scene to scene.
There will always be room in my schedule for another “Knives Out” mystery, but hopefully down the line “Glass Onion” doesn’t scratch what the best films in this franchise hopefully will. For the budget that Rian Johnson and crew is being allotted, these films should be gangbusters that reinvent the wheel every time – or at least try something new. I struggled to find much that felt different from the first, which in my eyes, is just a better film.