From the elaborate and overly complicated puzzle boxes that open the story—which the characters solve in a matter of minutes—to “world’s greatest detective” Benoit Blanc’s lengthy summation, Glass Onion feels kind of dumb. That seems largely by design, a reflection more on how people are willing to twist themselves into compromising knots to believe a lie than accept a simple truth. The world doesn’t need a super-sleuth to solve the crime at hand; it just needs someone to explain the idiotic cover-up.
The story unfolds as such: It’s May 2020, and COVID-19 is more of a nuisance than a threat. A mysterious puzzle box appears at the front door of four friends: Rocket scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), socialite and model Birdy Jay (Kate Hudson), and men’s rights influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista). The box is an invitation from Miles Bron (Edward Norton), a fabulously wealthy billionaire cut from the same cloth they make Steve Jobs effigies. Miles is a disrupting visionary who says crap like he wants to be remembered in the same breath as the Mona Lisa, but I guess he made his fortune by turning children into NFTs—the source of his empire is in dispute and largely dismissed in a series of murky jokes.
Anyway, the gang of four with two more in tow—Birdy’s assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) and Duke’s arm-candy Whiskey (Madelyn Cline)—head off to Miles’ private Greek island, a garish and opulent art compound so full of antiquities, J. Paul Getty would’ve choked, for a weekend murder mystery game. Blanc (Daniel Craig) also shows up for the weekend, as does Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), Miles’ estranged business partner with a score to settle.
Back to those puzzle boxes. Each is a beautiful and elaborate construction of about a dozen or so smaller puzzles. By solving one, another unlocks until the invitation at the end is presented. It’s the kind of contraption that might take Gary Kasparov a month to figure out, but Johnson surrounds his four protagonists with just the right assortment of people to solve the box in one rapid-fire montage. It’s funny in the way that the four people the movie fixes on are clearly not the smartest or most interesting people in the room—a theme Johnson continues throughout the film.
To this end, I’m not sure what Johnson’s game is. He respects mystery writers and detectives, but Glass Onion’s 139-minute runtime seems hell-bent on poking fun at the entire genre. And not in a silly, don’t take yourself serious way, but in a caustic way that feels more angry than clever. Particularly in the movie’s final reveal, where Johnson tips his hat to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
Much like Knives Out—the first Blanc mystery—Glass Onion has a gleefully eat-the-rich solution. But while Knives Out imbued the comeuppance with “ho-ho” cleverness, Glass Onion stretches its premise so thin that the cleverness never feels all that satisfying.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Produced by Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe, Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline
Netflix, Rated PG-13, Running time 139 minutes, Opens Nov. 23, 2022, in select theaters, Dec. 23 on Netflix.