Rian Johnson’s ‘Glass Onion’ Is A Grandiose Satire With Incredibly Relevant Layers – Review
Rian Johnson brought a modernized spin to the murder mystery genre in Knives Out, centering his story on the remarkably relevant themes of white privilege and generational wealth. In his follow-up, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Johnson levels things up in an even more pertinent manner with layers of unmasking and dismantling capitalism and the facade of the “billionaire genius.”
In his first Knives Out entry, Johnson found the heart of his film in the immigrant character of Marta Cabrera, who chose the righteous path even though the consequences were dire. The film dissected the hypocrisy of fake allyship and the inevitable corruption of enormous wealth. In Glass Onion, the themes of big money leading to injustice continue with an even more present-day feel, with characters who get their riches from fearmongering on streaming platforms, unethical fashion brands, and half-baked political campaigns. The cast is stacked with supporting characters who fill their archetypal tropes perfectly. This elevates the film’s comedy and adds to its satirical analysis of the current “get rich quick” trends that have inundated our everyday lives.
The film thrives off its layers of deconstruction, focusing on the crookedness of the fraudulent billionaire character, Miles Bron, played flawlessly by Edward Norton. Miles invites his close personal friends to his private island for a weekend of half-hearted pats on the back and reminiscing of the good ol’ days. The one wrench in the cog is the old friend who was betrayed by this group showing up to spoil their fun, Andi Brand.
Janelle Monae, as Andi Brand, plays a significant role in the film as the odd woman out who has mysterious intentions of being on the island. Her presence brings up an array of questions from both the characters and the audience, as Johnson loves to place mysteries within mysteries in these films to let the audience try to figure out what is going on. The questions of motive and intent are answered plainly in a meta way throughout Glass Onion as our spectacular lead, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), leads us through the mystery with grace and charisma. His patience and understanding, combined with his intelligence, allow him to play conductor for the audience, as he openly says what most of us are thinking. The genius of Benoit Blanc is the incredible balance of the cliche southern gentleman seamlessly fusing with the sincere, motivated, genius detective.
The bombastic nature of Knives Out was always felt, but in Glass Onion, it has grown exponentially. Johnson is a theatrical director who never misses an opportunity for an extravagant sequence or flashy camera move. In Glass Onion, the dialogue, characters, and set design are all elevated to a notably grandiose level. This is all purposeful to demonstrate the lavish ludicrousness of the ultra-rich, from useless, self-indulgent art to race cars placed on giant pedestals.
The visual commentary is all clear- when you’re a billionaire, everyone needs to see just how rich you are. Throughout the film, we learn about the phoniness of the Miles Bron persona, how his “genius” has been greatly exaggerated and how he convinces others of it based on simple tricks and illusions. “Theatricality and deception” hasn’t seen this much meaning since the Dark Knight trilogy. This is what Detective Blanc deliciously peels back, not just for the characters but for the audience. These morally compromised billionaires are not saviours or geniuses but greedy, selfish opportunists willing to do anything to grow their riches. Part of the fun of Glass Onion is seeing Blanc analytically takedown these rich ego-maniacs. There’s something so oddly satisfying about hearing that southern drawl, carefully and intelligently ripping apart the bogus nature of these characters. The mystery is enticing in these films, but the social examination of capitalism’s fabricated power makes each film more enjoyable.
What Rian Johnson does so expertly, above all, is balance these complex themes with heart and understanding. The success of Knives Out is the self-aware exposing of our modern-day system. There’s a purposefulness to Benoit Blanc’s southern charm and his admiration and connection to the working-class protagonists. His appreciation for these characters is shared with the audience. That sincereness that Daniel Craig brings to Benoit Blanc is the key to the charm of these films. Glass Onion efficiently tears down the facade of the false superiority of the super-rich. Its commentary is more relevant than ever and is incredibly refreshing to experience. What’s brilliant is that it’s never done in an overly preachy manner but in a heartfelt comedic one. That’s precisely what satire is to carefully yet comically take down the bigger fish. The honest reflection of the world in Glass Onion is all too real, allowing the audience to contemplate these heavy themes while acknowledging the power of knowing about them. The current version of the “great and powerful Oz” is not so scary when you know about the “man behind the curtain.”
Although the film may be too over the top for some, it skillfully handles complicated conversations with a sense of jest and audaciousness. Each archetype fits its puzzle piece impeccably and elevates the themes. This close examination of current culture is a difficult task. Yet, Rian Johnson does so ingeniously- balancing relevant trends and articles with a sense of self-awareness and clever takedowns.
Glass Onion will benefit from multiple rewatches not just because of the clues laid out throughout the film but because of the endless layers of social commentary. This film has so much to explore and enjoy, and that’s part of the appeal. I, for one, can’t wait to see more of Benoit Blanc and will happily go on another adventure with him.