‘Glass Onion’: Peeling Back the Layers on How to Make a Successful Murder Mystery

In 2019, ‘Knives Out’ stole the show at the box office. Three years later, does ‘Glass Onion’ do its predecessor justice?

Daniel Craig reprised his role as Benoit Blanc in Glass Onion, following up his fantastic performance in Knives Out.

Zach Catanzareti Photo, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Daniel Craig reprised his role as Benoit Blanc in ‘Glass Onion,’ following up his fantastic performance in Knives Out.

A private island off the coast of Greece. A ‘tech bro’ billionaire with more money than he knows what to do with. And a group of friends who are clinging to his fortune. The result, with some comedy sprinkled in along the way, is Netflix’s follow-up effort to the wildly popular whodunnit mystery movie Knives Out. 

Knives Out follows the murder of Harlan Thromby, the founder of a murder mystery book-writing empire. It observes a fairly common formula for murder mysteries: a vintage mansion, a rich victim, and motives for each and every character. The movie was a hit, grossing over $311 million on a budget of just $40 million. Those numbers made it the second-highest-grossing original movie of 2019 that wasn’t a sequel or based on a previously existing piece of intellectual property. Knives Out was widely praised for its witty humor and fantastic plot pacing, as well as the remarkable setting and cinematography. As such, director Rian Johnson had a difficult task cut out for him when he began working on its sequel.

Glass Onion’s plot is again based around the mysterious yet brilliant detective Benoit Blanc, played by the talented Daniel Craig. In the movie, Blanc receives a mysterious package from tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), which includes a wooden puzzle box containing an invitation to Bron’s murder mystery party on his private island. Besides Blanc, five of Bron’s friends receive invitations: the head scientist of Bron’s company, Alpha, Lionel Toussant (Leslie Odom Jr.), the governor of Connecticut, Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), fashion mogul Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Alpha co-founder Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), and men’s rights influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). They all travel to Bron’s private island, highlighted by a real-life Glass Onion building — a beautiful villa with a real-life Glass Onion sitting atop it. 

The structure of Glass Onion, while different from Knives Out, is still engaging whilst keeping the audience guessing till the very end. Rian Johnson’s writing is sharp and clever, filled with twists and turns that subvert expectations. The film keeps the audience on their toes, as Benoit Blanc works through the clues and unravels the mystery behind the multiple characters’ deaths. The plot of Glass Onion develops much quicker than its predecessor, with positive and negative impacts that I will dive into later. The movie’s title as well is fantastic, with the term “glass onion” being coined by the Beatles to mean overanalyzing something that is not intended to mean anything more than what it is.

One of the most notable aspects of Glass Onion is its star-studded cast, who deliver strong performances across the board. Daniel Craig shines as Benoit Blanc, bringing a perfect blend of humor, wit, and intelligence to the character. He also brings hints of his iconic Bond character by being unflappable in the face of distress. Janelle Monae impresses in both of her roles as Andi and Helen Brand. Glass Onion took full advantage of Monae’s remarkable versatility as an actress, masterfully playing both a genius businesswoman and a scared Southern schoolteacher. Edward Norton steps into the role of a classic 21st-century billionaire tech bro, Miles Bron, with his character evolving throughout the movie from initially likable to a villainous one. Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., and Dave Bautista all deliver solid performances, elevating their respective characters despite some of their character arcs being underdeveloped. The characters suffer from being too shallow, without much background added to their character besides a short flashback. This results in characters like Duke and Claire failing to create a meaningful connection with the viewer. 

The music and score in Glass Onion are strong elements of the film, with the film starting with Bach’s “‘Little’ Fugue in G minor” which helps to establish the mysterious and puzzling tone for the rest of the movie. However, in the final scene, we can really see how a score can provide a unique depth to a scene. Johnson opts to use Nat King Cole’s classic Mona Lisa, a song that makes a visually chaotic scene slow down to a waltz and provides a unique conclusion to the film. 

One of the standout elements of Glass Onion is its portrayal of the modern-day tech industry and its impact on society. Miles Bron and his group of “disruptors” represent the dark side of the tech world, where wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a few, and ethical concerns are often overlooked. Rian Johnson cleverly satirizes the tech industry’s culture of innovation and disruption, shedding light on the negative consequences that can arise from unbridled ambition and unchecked power. It is no mistake that he heavily emphasizes that Bron essentially cheated his way to his position due to his charisma. 

Glass Onion offers a high level of rewatchability, thanks to the countless minute details and intricacies in the main movie plot that provide new details for viewers to discover each time they watch. This helps the movie surpass typical one-dimensional comedies and stand up to its predecessor. 

Despite its strengths, Glass Onion does suffer from some flaws in its plot structure. At times, the film seems to focus on too many subplots at one given time, resulting in some storylines feeling underdeveloped and lacking depth. The numerous characters and their individual story arcs can sometimes be overwhelming, and it can be challenging for the audience to fully invest in each one. For example, the film begins with a hilarious scene featuring Duke Cody’s mother (Jackie Hoffman) decoding Bron’s puzzle box; however, this is never referenced again in the film. Additionally, the pacing of the film can be uneven at times, with some moments feeling rushed while others drag on.

Glass Onion falls into more of the comedic side of the murder mystery spectrum, drawing similarities to Adam Sandler’s film Murder Mystery (2019). Meanwhile, the original Knives Out movie falls much more in line with the Agatha Christies and Alfred Hitchcocks of the genre, such as Murder on the Orient Express (2017) or Rear Window (1954). The more traditional film lovers will most certainly prefer Knives Out; however, the more casual filmgoers will certainly appreciate Glass Onion in a similar capacity as the original. 

Glass Onion is a visually stunning and star-studded film that offers a unique twist on the whodunit genre. Rian Johnson’s masterful direction, coupled with the outstanding performances of the cast, creates an engaging and entertaining viewing experience. The film’s use of music, lighting, and cinematography adds to its overall appeal, creating a visually captivating world into which the audience can immerse themselves. 

Glass Onion remains an enjoyable and thought-provoking film that offers not just a good murder mystery watch, but also a satirical commentary on modern society and the tech industry. With its blend of humor, suspense, and social critique, Glass Onion is a must-watch for fans of the genre and those looking for a fresh, modernized take on the classic whodunit mystery. 

To watch Glass Onion on Netflix (subscription required), click HERE.

Knives Out was widely praised for its witty humor and fantastic plot pacing, as well as the remarkable setting and cinematography. As such, director Rian Johnson had a difficult task cut out for him when he began working on its sequel.