M. Night Shyamalan has made somewhat of a comeback in recent years, after dissapointments in films such as The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth, the director famous for his twists and turns in storytelling rejuvenated interest in his work thanks to well received (for the most part) films like The Visit and his thriller film, Split. The latter film, which starred James McAvoy and Anya Taylor Joy, was a special case because of it’s surprise ending: it was a secret sequel to his previous film, Unbreakable. It was this surprise shared universe that hyped up the filmmaker and his film that would follow and complete this “trilogy”; along comes Glass, written and directed by Shyamalan.
This film had a lot of expectations to live up to, what with this being Night’s first foray into a shared universe with characters from previous films and this being a third installment building off what came before, something the director had never done before. Overall, Glass is an interesting take on the superhero genre that doesn’t really accomplish what it was trying to do, but still takes some bold steps in the right direction with some hints of sharp storytelling seen in the otherwise odd and in your face storytelling.
The main focus of the story is the conflict between David Dunn, the ‘unbreakable’ man who uses his powers to help others, and Kevin Crumb’s ‘Horde’ of 24 different personalities and the most powerful one, ‘The Beast’ who has animal like abilities and strength that clashes with Dunn’s own strength, with each individual surprised at the other, having never encountered someone like themselves before. It is with this interaction that the title character Elijah Glass, also known as his super villain persona Mister Glass due to his fragile physique but genius level intelligence, sees an opportunity to orchestrate a series of escalating events that lead to the events of the film. Among these three characters is newcomer Sarah Paulson, who plays Dr. Ellie Staple , a psychiatrist who specializes in a “special” delusion of grandeur, specifically people who think they are like that of comic book characters.
It is in the hospital setting of the film in which Glass shines the most. Invoking the spirit of Unbreakable, Shyamalan does a great subversion of the superhero and comic book movie genre during the first two acts of Glass, with each of the three main characters being studied and forced to examine their abilities and who they are, thanks to Paulson’s Psychiatrist character who’s role in the film is undoubtedly the most interesting. This retrospective look on superhero and comic book storytelling tropes could have been even more successful, if not for the the poor writing of some of the story beats.
While the film excels in it’s concepts and ideas, the execution is very much lacking. Most of the time when the film captivated my interest, it would ruin the scene that I just watched by explaining everything that just happened in said scene through forced dialogue by one of the characters. Glass feels like it needs to hold the viewers hand throughout most of the movie via explanation of everything that’s happening in the film, with a lot of telling and showing, bringing the experience down and making it feel less like a thinking mans comic book movie and more like a lecture on certain aspects of comic books and their characters, feeling the need to explain how the structure and story of a comic book works every other story beat.
The odd but compelling story is elevated by the performances of the cast, with Unbreakable alums Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Spencer Treat Clark returning, as well as Anya Taylor-Joy returning from Split. James McAvoy, whose performance was lauded in Split, brings the same amount of energy to Glass. The Beast, who only had the last 20 minutes or so of Split to shine, has much more screen time in Glass, and McAvoy brings everything he can to the table. It was so impressive watching Shyamalan’s signature tracking one shots and seeing McAvoy switch from one character to the next and making them all seem so different from one another. It was truly one of the best parts of the film, bringing drama and compelling fear in some scenes, and some comedic moments in another, all from the same (but different) characters, a true highlight of the film. Bruce Willis more or less is the same character from 19 years ago in Unbreakable, but its as enjoyable seeing the character from a film that I loved so much before, embracing the role of a superhero.
The action in the film is entertaining as well, with the fights between Dunn and The Beast being sparse but very fun to watch. Seeing both characters showcase their powers to their full potential was so much fun to see. The action was also a great contrast to the character study that this film was (or at least tried to be). The camera work was well done with an amazing use of colors in the film to represent each character, and even colors in the hospital changing to reflect the mood and mental status of some of the characters with one take tracking shots adding to the dramatic feeling of the whole film. The creative choices in terms of lighting, costumes, and cinematography were a highlight of the film for me and the best reason to revisit the film for a second viewing as well.
Samuel L. Jackson as usual brings his wit and charm to the villainous role of Mister Glass, and the evil genius trope/character mold is done with a somewhat clever take in the film, as watching Glass show his intellect in orchestrating the events of the film which lead to the shocking climax was a joy to see. Overall, each of the three “superhuman” characters were the best parts of the movie, that were unfortunately weighed down by the story M. Night Shyamlan wanted to tell.
As said before, while the retrospective look and study of the three characters in the hospital and the overall contained and small scale of the film added to the realism and made for such an interesting watch, the third act of the film is what brings everything down a bit, and is a hard one to interpret. While I won’t go into spoiler territory, the very risky decisions that Shyamalan chose for the characters and the story at the end of the film is one that will definitely leave audiences divided. I, for one, am on the fence about the ending and the film as a whole. Its hard to tell whether this was lazy or forced writing to wrap everything up while also leaving the door open for future cash grab sequels, or some sort of misguided attempt at making a statement on comic book movies as a whole. While I love the characters and the concept of the film, as said before, execution was off, especially in the ending. Add to that the in your face explanations of what was happening on the screen and weird dialogue choices and a contrived twist (which I will not spoil), Glass ends up not being anywhere near as extraordinary as the characters the film wants to examine, and you end up with an average film that had so much more potential. If anything, check out this film to wrap up Shyamalans ‘Eastrail 177 Trilogy’, and for some great technical work and decent action. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 6/10
Glass Hits Theaters January 18, 2019
Glass – M. Night Shyamalan brings together the narratives of two of his standout originals—2000’s Unbreakable, from Touchstone, and 2016’s Split, from Universal—in one explosive, all-new comic-book thriller: Glass. From Unbreakable, Bruce Willis returns as David Dunn as does Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price, known also by his pseudonym Mr. Glass. Joining from Split are James McAvoy, reprising his role as Kevin Wendell Crumb and the multiple identities who reside within, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, the only captive to survive an encounter with The Beast. Following the conclusion of Split, Glass finds Dunn pursuing Crumb’s superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.