Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Good God. This is awful. We all knew Rian Johnson was a smug, complacent, virtual-signalling little weasel, but he’s really outdone himself here. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a salvo against privileged, toxic, white, dumb as in inherently undeserving, white (worth stating that twice) males – presumably the sorts who will delete all their old Tweets so as to scrub any suggestion of anything in their past that’s less than woke – of the most tedious, prescriptive order, replete with slavish toeing of the plandemic party line (and any other approved party line you might wish to mention, as long as it’s left-leaning), while grandiloquently presenting a plot that’s a big, airless bag of nothing – much like the previous Knives Out – all self-consciously look-at-me faux-clever. Rather than, you know, Agatha Christie clever.
Benoit Blanc: I’m very bad at dumb things.
It would be disingenuous in the extreme to suggest the Glass Onion’s woke furnishings weren’t paramount in Johnson’s mind when constructing this sequel. Knives Out wasn’t really about detective supremo Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig); it was about an immigrant heroine Ana de Armas putting one over on her rich white privileged oppressors. Glass Onion isn’t really about detective supremo Benoit Blanc; it’s about oppressed, swindled, morally immaculate Helen Brand (Janelle Monáe) – and her dead twin sister Andi – putting one over on her rich white privileged oppressor (and, to a lesser extent, his lackeys). And don’t you worry yourself that such manoeuvring is really obvious. Rian’s way ahead of you!
Johnson’s behaviour is pretty dubious anyway. He fashions a lead(s) for an African-American actress, but in so doing gives her nothing in the way of character or texture; Helen/Andi’s black and subjugated, so her triumphant, validating empowerment before your eyes is character enough, and shame on you if you expected something more substantial from her non-toxic white male creator. It’s thus little surprise that, despite the “challenge” of playing twin sisters, Monáe is utterly flat.
“Everything is so woke these days, it’s out of control” professes Kate Hudson’s Birdie Jay, whose assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) is “afraid I will tweet an ethnic slur again”. So you know, like Roseanne Barr or something. Rian’s purported idea is that these people are rich first, though – like Johnson himself, he knows his Knives Out milieu – so whatever political positions they hold are secondary. Miles (Norton) has been funding his long-time friends, who cross the spectrum of left (Kathryn Hahn’s Claire, governor of Connecticut and “hard line on climate change”) and right (David Bautista’s Duke Cody, YouTube star and men’s rights activist). But the right-leaning one, since he’s male and toxic, deserves to die… just not as much as the Waspy toxic male. Who, even better, will be abjectly humiliated). Birdie heads up a fashion label and is poised to take a fall for its Bangladesh sweatshops. Leslie Odom Jr’s Lionel is Miles’ head scientist and has little in the way of character to speak of (this looks rather like Johnson stereotyping by absence again; everyone else in the cast has a BIG character. Or accent. Perhaps he doesn’t feel the need to bother when it comes to African-American characters).
Benoit’s gay, we learn, which gives Craig something else to concentrate on beside that BIG accent. But since the southern inflection clearly occupies his entire attention – he sounds like he’s chewing on Foghorn Leghorn’s foot – our great detective’s sexual preferences are immaterial (except, of course, they give Johnson something else to signal about. And isn’t it funny that Hugh Grant is Benoit’s partner? Not really, no. Funny would have been Grant playing Benoit. At least, he couldn’t have been unfunnier than Craig playing him. Craig can’t do funny. Ask Taika Waititi. Who can’t do funny either. Craig’s also looking increasingly like Roger Moore circa A View to a Kill. Around the point Rog had a few surgeries).
If it isn’t prostrating himself before the altar of glib racial/social/sexual politics – let’s just call it “But what do you mean by?” wokeness – Johnson’s bending over for the coof. Everyone is masking up, and if they aren’t, it’s because they’re rich and irresponsible. His insight into virus theory is about as sound as his ken for time travel. Repeated references to how the plandemic has taken its mental toll (Rian knows, he’s one of us), “working from home like the rest of us” etc. This obsequious toady is slavishly preaching from the rule book but funny too, right, with the whacky vaccine scene. I’m guessing – only guessing mind, since nothing in the official mandate is beyond him – that Rian is suggesting there’s no need to mask up once “vax’d” because Miles is an idiot, and we all know the jab doesn’t provide full immunity, right, and rich people, and Benoit, should know better. But being “clever” about the specifics within a lie perpetrated with an aim at mass depopulation really elicits a – to quote Benoit – “No! It’s just dumb!”
The idea that Miles is an idiot only goes so far, because he’s evidently an idiot astute enough to become a billionaire. Johnson essentially makes him an idiot because Benoit says so and points out some malapropisms. Sure, you could have had a tech genius as an idiot, a front for the CIA, say, but otherwise… But then, that might be too obvious, in terms of Johnson’s lapdog credentials, since the movie is also all about pooh-poohing alternative energy (but pro-proing climate change and space flight). He repeatedly pulls the Hindenburg card, but look into the background there, of hydrogen vs helium and why the viability of zeppelins might have been buried, before taking his shorthand as gospel.*
I thought – I’m not blowing my own trumpet, just aware of the Johnson agenda – the perp was likely to be Miles from the outset (Norton will, of course, gratefully get in line with deserved immolation of his own irrelevant redundant white carcass). So I was attentive to Benoit explicitly throwing shade on the idea it was him (he was unlikely to be so obvious as to kill Andi, as he was a genius, but we know white men aren’t really geniuses; it’s always someone else who deserves the credit). Particularly telling was the POV shot of Miles seeing the poisoned glass and “realising”, as this was tantamount to a Hitchcock Stage Fright moment of selling a lie to the audience through the subjective lens. Similarly, Johnson was never going to kill off Monáe’s character (unless her twin sister had still been alive after all), chiefly because he’s scrupulously on-message.
The puzzle box mystery is like something out of Now You See Me (all distracting bells and whistles and nothing to elicit admiration). Indeed, Johnson’s confection has a similarly superficial disdain for the rigours of mystery plotting to that movie’s for stage magic. Per Knives Out, he preoccupies himself with explanatory flashbacks halfway through that entirely kill any sense of flow. Because he isn’t interested in that: he wants you to applaud his tricksiness. And are we really supposed to get in line behind the hideous scene of Helen smashing up the entire room at the end of the movie, just like the dummies who submit to Miles? That, and her burning the Mona Lisa? Presumably because it’s a symbol of the patriarchy. God knows. It’s truly lousy. Mary Poppins-Leia level lousy.
I didn’t think the detective genre could reach any lower than Sir Ken and his Death on the Nile, but Johnson manages it. Is Rian Johnson a “brainless jackass”? Probably not brainless. He’s at least as smart as Miles, getting himself a Netflix deal for some unholy sum predicated on how woke he can go. For Johnson, the sky’s the limit.
*Addendum 03/01/23: There’s an alternative take out there that this is a White Hat movie. In theory, everything coming out of Hollywood now is a White Hat movie and has been for some time. The distinction would be whether it’s a White Hat movie presenting a pro-White Hat position or a White Hat movie encouraging the whole Hollywood structure to collapse in upon itself (which would seem to be the case with Disney).
Here, sure. Rian may have switched teams and presented an exclusive (Epstein – Daniel’s blue-and-white sailor suit mimics the Epstein building) island scenario of rich elites flaunting coof rules, where the political divisions are only nominal in a Hegelian sense as they’re all buddies together, and where you’ll accept any substance into your system just on an authoritarian say-so, etc. But if so, it does a really bad job of it. Particularly since all the readings of those who haven’t seen it that way have been pointing to the marvellous satire of Elon Musk. Which would be reasonable, if we’re talking Elon Musk MK I, but wouldn’t that be a bit too clever?
I suppose it could be that, like The Batman, Glass Onion had elements shoehorned in, late in the day, consequently making its White Hat statements seem awkward at best and immaterial at worst. Either way, positive intentions or negative intentions, it’s a bad movie.