Writer and Director M. Night Shyamalan has been on the upswing as of late and after shattering everyone’s minds at the end of “Split” with a tie in to “Unbreakable”, the anticipation for “Glass” could not have been higher. “Glass” marks the end of a 19-year journey for Shyamalan in which he sought to deconstruct the superhero and comic book genre. In an age where Marvel or DC own the genre, Shymalan’s plan of constructing a unique and grounded superhero trilogy, based on no pre-existing material, where each installment is distinctly its own is not only refreshing but bold. Regardless of what your opinion of “Glass” ends up being, you have to admire the dedication, persistence, and originality of what Shyamalan was aiming for. It's with that in mind that the result is even more disappointing. For all, it’s ambition “Glass” is half full offering an underwhelming conclusion to the “Unbreakable Trilogy.”
Bringing together the narratives of both “Unbreakable” and “Split,” “Glass” picks up immediately following the events of “Split” as David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is in pursuit of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s (James McAvoy) superhuman personality known as The Beast. Operating within the shadows is Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) aka Mr. Glass who, following the events of "Unbreakable” remains contained inside Raven Hill Hospital (a glorified insane asylum). After a confrontation between Dunn and The Beast ends in the capture of both parties, the two join Mr. Glass in Raven Hill where their abilities and very identities are in question.
It’s a tricky thing to review a Shyamalan film given the unexpected nature of his work, and if you can believe it, it’s even harder to flat out discuss “Glass” without diving into too much detail, but I’ll try my best. Much of “Glass” feels as though it’s building towards something bigger than what we ultimately got and once Shyamalan takes the story in a certain direction, the execution is clumsily handled leaving much to be desired. The questions posed and central theme are both interesting enough and certainly fit in line with his "real world superhero commentary,” but the result is a film believing it's grander than it truly is.
Shyamalan takes a very meta approach in an attempt to comment on the tropes of comic book stories cleverly, and while it’s enjoyable and makes for some nice comedy early on, the novelty wears off, and the film falls victim to many of the cliches it was trying to deconstruct.
Much like the previous two entries, “Glass” functions independently as a self-contained narrative only relying on “Unbreakable” and “Split” to flesh out our three main characters. If “Unbreakable” functions as a deconstruction of the superhero origin story and “Split” a psychological examination of trauma, “Glass” takes the plunge into identity itself posing the question of whether or not our minds can shape and ultimately determine our reality. It’s an interesting concept that brings together the deconstructionist nature of the previous two films asking the three main characters and the audience to question whether or not they genuinely are superheroes.
Especially in the first half, Shyamalan showcases the effect this notion has on each of the individuals or in the case of Kevin Wendell Crumb, multiple individuals, fittingly within the confines of an insane asylum. Shyamalan takes these intimate moments of clinical examination to explore who these characters are as people and how their past could have influenced the belief that they have abilities. The two characters who get the most significant boost from this examination are most certainly James McAvoy’s Horde and Bruce Willis’ David Dunn.
Shyamalan wisely carries over the notion of Kevin’s mind being a victim to trauma from Split expanding upon it even further in what is by far the most emotional and compelling aspect of the film. Kevin’s relationship with Anya Taylor Joy’s Casey is a poignant look at trauma victims and Casey’s empathetic affection towards Kevin helps to shape his arc beautifully.
As for David Dunn, the relationship between him and his son is continued, and Shyamalan integrates unused footage from Unbreakable to illustrate that relationship further. Dunn has continued to hide in the shadows for 16 years as a vigilante, and the film manages to explore his struggle of having to hide who he truly is from the world while also wanting to do the right thing.
Across the board, everyone gives a solid performance save for Sarah Paulson who I usually enjoy, but in "Glass" found her to be bland and one note. Many of her exchanges felt awkward, and it certainly didn’t help that Shyamalan’s dialogue for the character was too disjointed and clunky - a critique that truthfully rings true for a fair bit of the dialogue in "Glass." But Paulson aside, our three main characters were excellent ESPECIALLY James McAvoy who shockingly manages to outdo his superb work in Split.
Start up the Best Actor campaign again for McAvoy because his ability to pivot from over 20 different personalities back to back without any “movie magic” or trickery is masterful. I was genuinely astounded by his performance - the amount of raw physical, emotional and nuanced acting that is being put on display here is nothing short of incredible.
As for Bruce Willis, it’s probably the best performance he’s given in quite some time and thought he conveyed Dunn’s internal identity crisis with a lot of subtle but palpable emotion. Samuel L. Jackson was, of course, excellent and brought back what we loved about Mr. Glass in Unbreakable, but was able to build from that previous performance as well nicely. Surprisingly, he wasn’t in the film as much as I would’ve expected given the film’s title, but Jackson certainly makes the most out of what he’s given.
From purely a technical standpoint, “Glass” offers some incredibly creative and inventive cinematography especially regarding the fight sequences the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Shyamalan adopts a unique style in these moments, very rarely shooting them from the perspective of the action but from the people on the outside looking in. It’s quite brilliant and surprisingly effective and speaking of effective; the director nicely utilizes some subtle tracking shots adding more to the guerrilla/independent filmmaking aesthetic.
Overall, M. Night Shyamalan caps off his deconstructionist superhero trilogy with a thought-provoking conclusion that gives a whole new meaning to the identity of a superhero. The craftsmanship is undoubtedly top-notch, and the performances, especially from James McAvoy, were outstanding. I enjoyed and appreciated Night’s ambition with these films and think for the most part he succeeded in what he set out to do, but can’t entirely say I feel satisfied with the conclusion.
Film Review: Glass
Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor Joy
Rated PG-13, 129 Min