Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson
Review: David Stephens
The reputation of a director can be a fragile thing. It only takes one bomb or a couple of so-so movies to sully an impeccable record. Opinions obviously differ and everything has its own support group, but think of the reception that “Hook” got for Steven Spielberg or the damage that “Jack” did to Francis Ford Coppola’s near-perfect run. After a knock-out introduction with “The Sixth Sense” in 1999 (Geez, 20 years ago!!), M. Night Shyamalan started to descend from innovative Master of the Movie Twist, to the laughable generic lows of “After Earth” and “The Last Airbender”. That changed for most critics when he returned to the genre with the low-key chills of “The Visit”, and then blew everybody’s minds with “Split” in 2016, the brilliant stealth sequel to “Unbreakable”. With a superb central turn by James McAvoy as “The Horde”, it was universally well-received and noted as a major return to form for the director. Now Shyamalan completes his planned trilogy with “Glass”, which wraps up the story of these semi-realistic superheroes. Unfortunately reviews so far have been… “mixed” (to say the least), so YGROY takes a look at the UK release and determines whether it’s shatter-proof or extremely fragile…
The story starts a mere 3 weeks after Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Horde had escaped the cops in “Split”. Now with a new lair, the DID sufferer has already kidnapped 4 cheerleaders (!), and is preparing to unleash his “Beast” persona on society again with these new sacrifices. Meanwhile, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is working to find the missing girls, under his assumed alter-ego of the superhuman vigilante known as “The Overseer”. It seems that Dunn has been spending the many years since “Unbreakable”, quietly working in the shadows and aided by his now-adult adoring son Joseph (a returning Spencer Treat Clark). But as the hero and villain inevitably clash, it brings them under the scrutiny of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who treats those who believe that they’re superheroes. It also brings them closer to the locality of Dunn’s nemesis, a sedated Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). What could go wrong?
It has to be said that if you’re totally unfamiliar with either “Unbreakable” or “Split”, absolutely no leeway is given here. It hits the gravel running. Beyond that of course, the main hook behind “Glass” is that it’s a “truly grounded comic book movie” (Shyamalan’s own words, not ours). David Dunn is the everyman “Superman” with a poncho instead of a cape; Water is his Kryptonite, and Mr Glass was his Lex Luthor. The Horde is arguably a villainous version of Hulk or Wolverine. But if you don’t get the comic book comparisons straight away, don’t worry… because Shyamalan absolutely hammers you over the head with them at every opportunity! Characters peruse them, or bang on about “limited editions”, “origins”, “showdowns”, “team-ups”, and suchlike to their hearts content. It seems a little unnecessary in today’s MCU/DCU literate society, which is far different to the cinematic world when “Unbreakable” was released. When it’s overdone like that, it does really grate. But it does also provide some genuinely interesting riffs on the genre. The high-point of this comes when Staple confronts all three “Supers”, and decimates their “powers” in relatable easy strokes of logic. (“If Superheroes exist, why are there only three of you?”) The more subtle moments like that, is where the film is perhaps most successful. A cerebral challenge as to why Superheroes shouldn’t/couldn’t exist, it muddies the waters and makes the endgame that bit less obvious. And of course, there are the (occasional) smackdowns between two “Supered-up” characters to look forward to.
But unlike the paired-down “Split”, which had a tight narrative and unusual premise, “Glass” actually feels a bit of a hot mess. Whilst you’re watching it, you can’t help but feel that you’re being “played” rather than watch an actual story unfold in front of you. It’s probably not much of a surprise to expect Shyamalan’s trademark “gotcha” twists and U-turns in the plot, but this film feels like it’s far too enamoured with its own sense of grandeur and importance. Plus the fact that we get flashbacks and OTT music to underline certain moments that are perfectly understandable without having them visually play out in excruciating fullness. There are plenty of scenes which leisurely play out with full-face close-ups of characters speaking to the camera, and in all honesty it feels like there are a lot of scenes which could have been easily edited out without disrupting the flow, and tightened the film up. The final scenes alone nearly reach the “Lord of the Rings” farewell status in refusing to end.
Having said that, and admitting that this is easily the least successful film in the “Unbreakable” trilogy, there is still a lot to appreciate here. McAvoy is superb again, and his acting skills in visualising the many characters of The Horde are quite astonishing and shouldn’t be overlooked. He even plays Irish twins at one point! Jackson and Paulson are on point and solid. It’s also nice to see Anya Taylor Joy’s Casey return as an evolved and rounded-out character, not to mention Clark’s delightful update of the (literally) hero-worshipping Joseph. However, perhaps most surprising is the generous and natural performance of Willis, who is more relatable and dignified here than he has been in a role for years. Those used to the actor phoning-it-in during films like “Death Wish”, will be surprised as to just how good he is in his non-showy return as Dunn. Shyamalan also scatters plenty of little Easter Eggs and nods to the previous films, and the director even reprises his character cameo from “Unbreakable” in a nice touch. The incidental details of the power-proof cells, and other clever nods to Marvel and DC, are also welcome. But by the time the credits roll, you can’t help feeling a little underwhelmed. For all the talk of Universe-changing events and climatic showdowns, it doesn’t really hit the high notes that you expect. It’s always a matter of personal expectations of course, but you’re likely to feel a little unsatisfied once that final twist is unwound and Shyamalan bids farewell to his version of The Avengers. Certainly not without merit, but after “Split” we were expecting something a little more… super.