daniel craig as benoit blanc in 'Glass Onion'

‘Glass Onion’ Review: If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich

The sequel to the 2019 insta-classic is like a Christmas tree with too many ornaments

Miles Bron (Edward Norton) has exactly the kind of house you’d expect of a nouveau-riche tech billionaire. A Matisse in the bathroom, a Banksy, Rothko, Basquiat, and Twombly all fighting for oxygen inside the bulbous atrium on the roof of his private Greek island mansion. On their own these pieces are impressive, but jammed together inside Bron’s glass onion they’re simply expensive clutter. Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion has the same problem. The superb performances, topical pop culture references, and arch political humor of 2019’s insta-classic Knives Out are all present once again, but it’s so laden down with unnecessary plot points and superfluous celebrity cameos that it lumbers when it should soar. 

Take, for example, the Zoom call where world’s greatest detective (according to Google, anyway) Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) confesses to crippling pandemic-induced boredom. Without the challenge of a good mystery to solve, he’s grown restless and withdrawn. On the call is none other than Angela Lansbury, whose presence would be special even without the actor’s recent death to provide additional import. A scene between an old-school murder mystery icon and a newly-minted one? Nothing could be more delightful. So why is Lansbury shoved aside on the same call to also make room for Natasha Lyonne, Stephen Sondheim, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? The film sabotages itself by cramming in as many cameos and pop culture references as possible, regardless of whether they serve the story or not.

Blanc’s call is interrupted by the arrival of the very thing he’s been craving: an elaborate puzzle box. It contains an invitation to a lavish getaway on Bron’s island where the guests will spend the weekend solving a mystery — the (pretend) murder of their host. The other guests include members of Bron’s inner circle: Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), the frazzled R&D man who figures out how to turn Bron’s cryptic, pie-in-the-sky musings into reality; men’s rights Twitch streamer Duke (Dave Bautista) and his ambitious co-host Whiskey (Madelyn Cline); Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), an ex-supermodel with a habit of making racist gaffes on Twitter (her Beyoncé Halloween costume was meant as a compliment); and Claire (Kathryn Hahn), a senator whose campaign has been bankrolled by Bron. 

Each of them are one of Bron’s so-called “disruptors,” a word that has gone from hip to insufferable in the wake of the tech bubble and the TED Talk industrial complex. People who, like him, found success by circumventing what he calls “the system,” AKA government regulation and basic morality. Bron’s latest venture, an emission-free fuel called Klear, could make his company billions despite not receiving adequate safety testing. His plans to nonetheless push through with the launch of Klear caused a split with his longtime business partner Andi (Janelle Monaé), whom he “Social Network-ed” out of the company for refusing to sign off on a project that could literally blow up the world.

So the plot thickens when Andi also arrives on the island, staring daggers into Bron and his sycophantic friends, ready to participate in the mystery game. Every person in attendance — with the exception of Blanc — either has a financial dependence on Bron, a reason to want him dead, or both, and only Blanc seems to realize how easily a fake murder could become a real one.

Once you clear away the clutter of cameos, the main cast of Glass Onion is terrific. Norton doesn’t oversell his role as this universe’s Elon Musk. He plays Bron as a guy who completely buys into his own bullshit, who genuinely believes he’s revolutionizing the world with his arrogant whims. The screenplay mines a lot of comedy out of the stupidity of these people who have convinced themselves that being rich is the same as being smart. Hudson’s airhead has-been model who “tells it like it is” on social media is the easiest target for this kind of humor, as is Bautista’s macho muscle bro posturing. Odom and Hahn get the least to do, but acquit themselves well as socially-respectable enablers of Bron’s irresponsibility. 

After several false starts in film acting, this is the role that will hopefully, finally launch Monaé into position as a full-blown movie star. Her presence is commanding as she deftly code-switches between steely and bumbling, carrying a sizable chunk of the film and even managing to upstage Craig. Blanc, sporting a rich tan and exquisite collection of outfits, once again endears himself with his mix of disarming charm, cornball goofiness, and strong moral center. Craig seems just as enamored with the character as he was in the first film, which is a good omen for the future adventures of Benoit Blanc. 

In addition to the cameos, the screenplay throws a little too much at the wall for the story to feel as tight and elegant as the original. Bron’s Klear scheme feels like it belongs in a different kind of Daniel Craig movie, as if Johnson was worried we wouldn’t dislike the character enough for being “just” an insufferable tech billionaire, he also has to be a supervillain. The sizeable logic gaps of this particular subplot also leave the mystery feeling a bit frayed at the edges where the original felt clean and taut. 

The screenplay’s slavish need to make topical pop culture references in an era where the news cycle moves at lightning speed causes it to constantly feel one step behind the times. References to performative mask-flouting and elbow handshakes feel almost quaint in December 2022, where COVID protocols are almost non-existent. To that end, why acknowledge the pandemic at all if you’re just going to throw it out for the majority of the film so your actors can perform unencumbered by face coverings? 

There’s an obvious comparison to be made between Bron and Elon Musk, but the recent immolation of the latter’s persona of a visionary genius undermines the character somewhat. A joke about crypto loses its bite given the currency’s recent implosion, and a background fresco of Kanye West as a Greek deity takes on an entirely different meaning now than it would have even a month ago. While the original film is just as much a product of its time, the core story is more universal and doesn’t feel dated on subsequent rewatches. I doubt whether the same will be said of Glass Onion a year from now.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This review was made possible by donations to the Fall Movie Fundraiser for Indigenous Abortion Access. Missed your chance to donate? You still can!

Kristen Grote is a freelance film and culture critic. Follow her on Twitter and Letterboxd.