The more I think about arts and entertainment criticism, the more I think it’s about the ability to forgive flaws. No piece of art is objectively perfect. Art, after all, is subjective. All critics have their own experiences and tastes that shape and inform their opinions, whether they like it or not. Where one sees excellence, the other sees unforgivable mistakes.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is Rian Johnson’s return to sequels and murder mysteries. 2019’s Knives Out was one of the year’s biggest surprises and a wonderfully old-fashioned whodunnit, so a sequel was planned almost immediately.
Johnson isn’t a stranger to sequels. His Star Wars sequel, The Last Jedi, is the most divisive one in the entire Skywalker saga. Again, others saw uncompromising vision within The Last Jedi’s narrative and others found it a misguided attempt to needlessly reinvent Star Wars.
It’s safe to say that Glass Onion will probably be better received by fans and critics alike than The Last Jedi. A roaring crowd pleaser, it’s hard not to be entertained by Glass Onion’s twisty, tangled narrative and the endless gags delivered by the brilliant cast of Hollywood A-listers.
Benoit Blanc is invited to a private island by Myles Bronn (Edward Norton), who is hosting a murder mystery party for his friends. There is palpable tension within the friend group even before the murder mystery party starts, but when a real murder occurs, things get out of hand and Blanc has a real case to solve.
It’s hard to talk about Glass Onion without spoiling any of its numerous pleasures. It’s a notable step up from Knives Out in production value and the scope of the story. Glass Onion’s narrative is more complex, for better and for worse. It loses some of the charm of its predecessor by branching out, but it’s also a chance for Johnson to create something a little more ambitious.
Daniel Craig is once again hilariously on point with his performance as Benoit Blanc. Blanc is a little out of his element here; unsure of why he has been invited or what he’ll be investigating, but all will be revealed. And those revelations are exquisite. It’s not easy to pull off twists in this day and age but somehow, Johnson makes it look easy.
The rest of the cast are very good too, Janelle Monáe being the definite highlight. Kate Hudson slightly over-exaggerates her already caricaturish character, but Dave Bautista is brilliantly self-aware and cements himself as a great comedic actor. Edward Norton probably gets the best written character, with plenty to chew on, while Leslie Odom Jr. and Kathryn Hahn aren’t given much to explore.
If Knives Out was a biting dissection of class and privilege, Glass Onion continues to explore those themes, just slightly more outrageously and with a bigger sense of fun. A more cynical critic would note that Johnson is playing right into the hands of capitalism by simply copying and pasting the successful formula of the first film into this, but Glass Onion is so entertaining and funny that I simply stopped caring. Isn’t the whole point to make the audience forget about everything else for 149 minutes? Johnson certainly succeeds in that and that runtime whizzes by.
Glass Onion is far from perfect. There are plenty of cameos that become increasingly distracting and at times, Johnson leans too heavily on exposition and over-explains things. But, as a critic, I’m willing to overlook those things, bringing us back to my earlier point about subjectivity.
I thoroughly admire Johnson’s ability to build such a fascinating mystery and carry the story as confidently as he does. Perfection isn’t objective, it’s subjective and Glass Onion provides everything I need and want from a film like this; surprises, laughs and a central mystery full of suspense.
As well as being one of the year’s most entertaining films, Glass Onion is a meticulously crafted and deliciously thrilling whodunnit. It’s truly a film best experienced without prior knowledge of the plot or twists. Johnson’s brilliant, assured direction is the crown jewel in this brilliantly enticing tale.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery screened as the Closing Night Gala at the BFI London Films Festival. The film is in cinemas November 23 for one week and on Netflix December 23.