Rian Johnson is a disrupter. His directorial debut – 2012’s Looper – broke the back of paradoxical time travel sci-fi. His take on Star Wars five years later – The Last Jedi – threatened to break the Internet. It is, then, with a deliciously wicked sense for the ironic that Johnson’s latest film – Glass Onion – gleefully lambasts the whole notion of disruption as hollow arrogance. That his obnoxiously self-proclaimed “disrupter” protagonists are each wholly at the lap and call of a cultural leach financier only adds to the fun. Netflix forked out $429m solely for the rights to make Glass Onion, a predominantly housebound folly that will little directly provable financial return. They’re disrupters too.
As the film’s clunky full title attests, Glass Onion is A Knives Out Mystery. The first of many planned sequels to Johnson’s break out 2019 hit whodunnit. Knives Out being the all star murder mystery that put Ana de Armas on the map as a bone fide star and gifted the world Daniel Craig’s premiere midwestern detective Benoit Blanc. It’s Craig’s comical private eye that connects Glass Onion with its predecessor, much as Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot linked Murder with Death. In all other respects, the film is a markedly different kettle of fish. Gone is the gothic. Into its place, a lush Greek island widens the lens, glittering from left to right. It’s Marple meets Mamma Mia and a ripe setting for murder in the Mediterranean.
Only the cast out sparkle the sequel’s scenery. The sense that Craig is having even more fun this time around is palpable, his energy spooling out into a rousing and game ensemble. Blanc flexes here and is less ‘passive observer of the truth’ than active participant and rilled central player. Transported to sunnier climes, his attire does to enhance an already eccentric personage. Bond’s tight blue trunks are here switched for a vertically striped beach shirt and shorts combo, with yellow necktie. A delectable cameo midway through reveals hitherto unknown layers to the man behind the drawl, while a bath tube based zoom call towards the start does only to ramp up Blanc’s status as man, myth and legend.
Stepping into the chasm left by an absent De Armas, Janelle Monáe proves divine as the stylish voice of sanity and surprisingly adept comic. She is one of seven to answer the summons of Elon Musk inspired billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) to attend his luxury private island for a game of wink murder. Either insane or genius, Bron is the founding father of tech empire Alpha and a man whose pockets alone are deeper than the affection he holds for himself and, to a lesser degree, his inner circle. These being his bank-rolled gang of fellow disrupters. There’s Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), wannabe Connecticut senator, beefcake scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) and mens rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), who comes with Madelyn Cline’s Whisky draped over his shoulders. Rounding off the septet. Kate Hudson gives her best work in years as anti-woke supermodel turned designer Birdie Jay, with Jessica Henwick towed along as her intellectually superior assistant, Peg. To say so much as who lives and dies is to divulge too much. Enter blind or enter ruined.
Perhaps it’s the confidence of prior success or the joie de vive of a brighter setting but Glass Onion boasts a breezier and more overtly funny script on its predecessor. The gags land thick and fast from the off, with an uptick in engagement with the absurd. It’s a film brimming with feisty tributes to genre indulgences and shows no fear in embracing as many clichés as it subverts. There are twists, turns and rollicking rug pulls, with the first half played out twice from variant and revealing perspectives. It may be fair to note that Johnson’s plot and conceit are not necessarily as smart as his dressing but, in balance, the film proves no less entertaining for it.
Knives Out’s social conscience holds strong here too. If that film challenged faux liberal embracement of immigration, Glass Onion makes broader stabs at the hypocrisy of truth speak. ‘It is,’ notes Blanc, ‘a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth’. In disrupting the disrupters, Johnson and company capture a very vital zeitgeist. One we can all get on board with.