A multi-billionaire (Edward Norton) throws a murder mystery party for his closest associates (played by an all-star cast of Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, and Leslie Odom,Jr.). Everyone is surprised when his estranged business partner (Janelle Monae) shows up, along with the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who also starred in the previous film (Knives Out).
The setting, location, and all-star cast are evocative of the great Agatha Christie adaptation films starring Peter Ustinov, particularly Evil Under the Sun. There are some really solid performances, most notably Craig, who really shines in every moment on-screen. Also, the film features welcome cameos by the late Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim, which are sadly brief, but relevant to the plot.
The film is not the equal of its predecessor for a number of reasons.
As a matter of personal taste, I didn’t find setting the story in the midst of the pandemic to be in good taste. It has minor relevance to the plot but wasn’t essential. There’s a reason why the flu pandemic of 1918 was practically forgotten in the public consciousness until COVID-19 hit. It wasn’t a great time to live through and people would rather forget it. This isn’t to say that the pandemic should never be on film, but this is a classic case of “too soon”, particularly for a mystery movie that should have an escapist feel to it. Featuring masks and even having a scene on CNN with mounting death tolls and cases cuts against that.
The movie has a twist that’s revealed more than an hour in that leads the story to cut back and recontextualize some previous scenes. I’ve seen this technique used before but not in a mystery film. I’m not opposed to it, but I think it takes too long in this film and hurts the pacing. It’s also a case where the new context leads to scenes that are less entertaining and interesting than the ones in the original context.
The film also has a problem with its characterization. I blame social media and the illusion it creates, that we “know” people, including famous people, from their Instagram posts and Twitter accounts. In The Glass Onion, it feels less like human beings are getting together and more like social media profiles are. This surface-level characterization shows up in a well-worn plot element being introduced, and again with an even more tired method of saving one character’s life, a method that had been debunked on Mythbusters more than a decade ago. The plot would make this a fitting subject for a YouTube series such as How It Should Have Ended or Pitch Meeting.
Add to that an ending that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I really left with a less-than-stellar viewing experience, despite some high points. I loved Knives Out (review here) but I have mixed feeling about The Glass Onion. It left me pessimistic about getting good detective movies in the 2020s .
Rating: 3 out of 5
The Glass Onion is available to streem for free on Netllix.