Glass is not the movie you expect it to be. I suspect even, that for many people it won’t be the movie they want. But it’s the movie M. Night Shyamalan wanted to make. And he doesn’t give a damn what you want.
However, I find it strange that so many people have been shocked or outright rejected Glass as this has always been the directors approach to his films. He loves playing around with audience expectations and Glass is no different.It’s for the best that you enter the movie theater knowing that this is not a superhero adventure full of epic fist fights. But, to be fair, neither was Unbreakable.
It’s for the best that you enter the movie theater knowing that this is not a superhero adventure full of epic fist fights. But, to be fair, neither was Unbreakable.
Unbreakable benefited from the fact that people didn’t know how to react to it as superhero films were still a novel idea in 2000, more so one that examined superheroes as part of our real world. It’s failure at the box office could be more related to the fact the studio had no faith in it and decided to market it as Shyamalan’s scary and spooky follow up to The Sixth Sense, as this had been successful for that film, rather than the slow deconstruction of the superhero myth. It’s now considered one of the directors best films as well as one of the best entries of its genre, with Quentin Tarantino calling it “one of the masterpieces of our time”.
On the flip side, Glass is being released in a landscape where 3 to 5 superhero movies are being released in the same year, with many films like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Logan having taken these characters seriously, combining an analysis of their internal emotional workings with big budget action spectacle.
I don’t believe Glass will go through the same reexamination it prequel received as, in my mind at the very least, Unbreakable, as well as Split are superior films in many regards. But perhaps it will take some time and distance for it to get a different reception than it is getting now.
Having said all this, Glass represents the very best of the filmmaker’s instincts and the worst of his indulgences. Thankfully, what worked in Unbreakable and Split, continues working to perfection in Glass. The performances from all three leads are excellent, with McAvoy being the MVP continuing his absolutely bonkers and unique performance that began in Split, particularly a highlight scene where he transforms into different personalities of his Kevin Wendell Crumb within the span of a couple of minutes. However, this time he’s allowed to find the more humane side to his character, unexpectedly placing him as the heart of the movie.
Samuel L. Jackson takes his character in a wildly different tonal performance compared to the first film, showing a sedated Elijah Price for a large amount of the running time before exploding into an over the top caricature, stopping short of cackling like a maniacal saturday morning cartoon villain in the latter half. Despite this change, it fits the broad comic book flavor Shyamalan is going for.
As for Bruce Willis, he is used less than I expected or hoped for but is able to bring that inherent heroic and noble sense of goodness he imbued David Dunn with previously. Glass can fortunately be put on his list of recent films where he visibly cares about the performance he’s delivering rather than working for a day and half and an easy paycheck as seen in his recent filmography of Direct to video releases.
Returning supporting characters from Unbreakable and Glass have less to do this time with Anya Taylor Joy, Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard serving more as the emotional anchors for the three protagonists, and even if their performances are suitable, they’re sometimes left to handle some expository and cheesy dialogue I doubt most actors could do better.
Introduced is Sarah Paulson as Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist specializing in patients with delusions of grandeur who think they are real life superheroes. Most of the second act deals with the analysis and conversations she has with each character, trying to break through and convince them that their powers are only of the mind and not the body.
Shyamalan has always had a great sense on how to build individual set pieces, with this movie being no exception. In fact, the first two acts are filled with great tense moments anchored by his keen, slick visual sense with some great work done by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis and delightful scenery chewing dialogue aided by the performances. His use of colors, although obvious and a little blatant with each of the three main characters getting their own color scheme (David is green, Kevin is yellow and Elijah is purple), serves to successfully incorporate the larger than life comic feel he wishes to bring to this grounded world.
Also of note is West Dylan Thordson’s minimalist soundtrack which incorporates some of his own themes from Split as well as James Newton Howard’s magnificent work from Unbreakable, one I wished they had used much more of. However, he’s able to bring tension with clock like ticking themes as well as grand, epic and sweeping superheroic themes without going full Avengers.
Then comes the third act. This is where the film takes a left turn to crazy town and crashes into those Shyamalanesque indulgences at its fullest with some pretty corny, serious self aware dialogue and twists that don’t land as well as the filmmakers hoped. Again, the actors do their best with what they have but their talent can only take it so far.
Without going too much into spoilers, almost every criticism I have read has to do with the last 30 minutes and it’s easy to see why this has divided most people. Twists that are supposed to be shocking can be seen coming from miles away while other last minute reversals come out of nowhere and are presented as being meaningful but come across as flat.
Some characters are treated to unexpected yet powerful conclusions while one in particular has such a cruel and anticlimactic ending that it kept bothering me until after the credits rolled, leaving a slight distaste for what came before.
Despite all this, I am fascinated by the result and even closer to loving it. It’s so out there and committed to its craziness that you can’t help but admire some of the choices made by Shyamalan. At the end, I have respect for the world he created and I’m sure it will be one that I’ll revisit often with equal amounts of regret for what could have been and love for what it is.
Score: 4 and a half PB & J sandwiches out of 57