The Glass if Half Full
Glass is written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and stars James McAvoy, Bruce, Willis, and Samuel L. Jackson. Willis and Jackson return to reprise their roles from Unbreakable, along with Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard. McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy return to reprise their roles from Split. Sarah Paulson, Adam David Thompson, and Luke Kirby also star.
The first 20 minutes of Glass features the Unbreakable protagonist David Dunn confronting the Split protagonist (antagonist?) Kevin Wendell Crumb. During those 20 minutes, I was almost dead convinced that M. Night Shyamalan had put together the incredible finale I was hoping for and that all those scathing critical reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were a bunch of hogwash. Then the movie slowed down, and considering what came next, it eventually dawned on me that Glass was not the terrific conclusion I was hoping to see.
With the release of Unbreakable in 2000 and the release of Split in 2017- the latter ending by revealing a connection to the former- Glass is a film nineteen years in the making, taking on the additional responsibility of turning Shyamalan back into a writer-director darling, following the parade through hell that was Shyamalan's career between Unbreakable and Split. I thought Split had marked Shyamalan's return to his former ways, but with that movie promising a sequel that would combine the characters from both Unbreakable and Split, Shyamalan set himself up to prove that Split was no one time fluke. Unfortunately, Glass turns out to be the worst film in the Eastrail 177 trilogy (as it's now being described), making Shyamalan's future appear cloudier than ever. Should we forever roll our eyes and groan whenever we see, "a film by M. Night Shyamalan", or should we still cling to optimism that the good M. Night Shyamalan will come back? Anyway, despite being the worst film in the Eastrail 177 trilogy and the tone I've let on so far, Glass is still a perfectly satisfying superhero thriller, and it ends in a way that I think is highly appropriate for its characters, especially given the news that Shyamalan doesn't want to explore this superhero universe of his any further.
So yes, it is essential for you to see both Unbreakable and Split before you see Glass, otherwise you will be confused out of your mind about who is who and what is so special about the characters of David Dunn, Kevin Wendell Crumb, and Elijah Price. The story of Glass takes place three weeks after the events of Split. David Dunn (Willis), now running a security company with his grown-up son Joseph (Clark), continues to use his superhuman abilities to catch criminals, now going by the alias "The Overseer". David discovers that Kevin Wendell Crumb, controlled by his 23 other personalities known as "The Horde", is keeping a group of cheerleaders hostage inside a warehouse. David locates the cheerleaders and sets them free, leading to a fight between David and Kevin's animal-like personality, "The Beast". When the two fall out of the warehouse and spill into the streets, they are captured by the Philadelphia police. Under the orders of Dr. Ellie Staple (Paulson), David and Kevin are taken to a mental institution, the same one that is holding David's former rival, Elijah Price (Jackson). Dr. Staple reveals herself to be the head doctor of the institution, specializing in individuals who claim themselves to be superheroes. Staple tries to convince David, Kevin, and Elijah that they do not have superhuman abilities and are simply suffering from mental illnesses. Meanwhile, Elijah begins to plan an escape from the institution, intending to use David, Kevin, and himself to show the world that superheroes do exist.
The consensus is that the middle of the film inside the mental institution is where Glass grinds to a shrieking halt, changing from a classic hero versus villain story into a talky, superhero psychoanalysis in which Dr. Staple tries to prove that every superhuman act that David and Kevin performed had special circumstances attached to them. I am a firm believer that this could have been the best section of the film, the section where Shyamalan gives us more of the meditative attitude he gave us in Unbreakable, only this time Shyamalan would address how good cannot exist without evil, and how that translates to the relationship between superheroes and supervillains. After all, this is the film that's bringing it all together in regards to a comic book's three-part structure, and we knew Shyamalan wasn't going to turn Glass into an action-packed superhero spectacle where David Dunn and Kevin Wendell Crumb are fighting non-stop for two hours. There's already enough action-heavy superhero movies out in the world, so no need to start 2019 with another one. What's strange is that Shyamalan throws a bit of a curve ball at us with this middle part of the film: we learn that Glass is a movie that focuses more on how we as human beings relate to superheroes, as opposed to how superheroes and supervillains are pure reflections of good and evil, respectively. Not that Shyamalan's thematic intent is misguided or anything like that. It's just that Glass might have been better suited had it been more about the relationship between good and bad superhumans and how comic books reflect this relationship.
- So what are the high points of Glass? For starters, James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson are excellent in their roles, especially McAvoy, who looks like he's having the time of his life playing "The Horde". McAvoy knows how to be funny, how to be dignified, and how to be fierce, going back and forth from one emotional state to another without missing a beat. Jackson takes a little while before he says his first dialogue, but once he starts talking, he is suave, calculating, and always one step ahead. A role like Elijah Price is a golden opportunity to see the kind of acting Jackson is capable of when he's not required to crack one liners and show us the kind of histrionics we're used to seeing from the guy who at times seems to be in every movie ever. Jackson is great with his facial expressions and masterfully uses his vocal range to make the most out his lines. I wish Bruce Willis was as committed as McAvoy and Jackson. Willis is just going with the flow and doesn't seem to be giving it his all.
- Shyamalan is no action director, but the fight scenes that happen at the beginning and at the end of Glass are actually pretty spectacular. This is largely because David and "The Beast" are, well, fighting, and I mean fighting like how two normal human beings would actually fight if they got mad at each other. There are absolutely no wacky karate moves nor any blazing fast editing. It's mostly David and Kevin ramming into each other and exchanging body blows. As simple as that sounds, it turns out to be pretty thrilling superhero violence and a breath of fresh air from all the times we watch superheroes take down a swarm of hapless bad-guy henchmen.
- One of Shyamalan's biggest flaws as a writer is his ability to write natural-sounding dialogue, and that flaw is prevalent in Glass, where characters frequently speak strings of words that do not sound like anything that would be said in a normal, everyday conversation. Poor Sarah Paulson is the main victim of this: she has to explain Dr. Staple's theories and ideas in ways that sound like she's directly telling us the messages we're supposed to learn as opposed to leaving them for the audience to figure out on their own. I also did not enjoy how "The Beast" acknowledges how his victims haven't suffered and thus aren't "pure". This idea about the importance of suffering was the main thing I took away from Split, and in that movie, Shyamalan did a wonderful job of leaving enough hints for us to understand that that was the message without having to tell us outright. Here though, Shyamalan states the suffering message outright, as if he was assuming audiences weren't coming in to Glass aware of how this idea of suffering equaling purity was integral to Kevin's character. The end result is a series of awkward conversations that slightly diminishes the magic of both Unbreakable and Split.
- For some reason, there is an excessive amount of close-up shots throughout the film, in which a character's head takes up virtually the entire frame. I can't tell if this is Shyamalan trying to be artistic for the sake of being artistic, or if he thinks we can feel a deeper connection to the characters and their emotions if we spend a good chunk of time right up in their faces. If we only had a few of these close-ups scattered throughout the film, I might not have given it a second thought, but there's a ton of them everywhere, and they grow old quick.
So how to wrap things up? Glass is one of those movies that has a lot to love and a lot to hate, and already looks to be one of the most polarizing films of 2019. I might even be willing to go as far to say that this may be the most polarizing wide release since Batman v Superman in 2016. What to love: the excellent performances from both James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as the entertaining fights that occur at the beginning and end of the movie. What to hate: the sometimes clumsy dialogue and the excessive use of close-ups. For others, the writing all-around would be another reason to despise Glass, and for that, I am unwilling to develop a counter-argument. This is a conclusion that could have gone in a multitude of directions, so if I'm going to be any sort of Shyamalan apologist, I'm going to say that Shyamalan had a very difficult task on his hands with how to bring closure to this superhero universe, and I think he did a fine job with the direction he chose. The ending is not a plot twist for the ages, but like Unbreakable's twist ending, it makes sense when you take everything into account. I have a small hunch that Glass could be one of those movies that gets a significant re-evaluation down the road, but if it doesn't, I doubt it will fade from our memories any time soon. In this day and age of effects-driven superhero films, Shyamalan has given us a unique trilogy that puts the microscope on superheroes and analyzes why we gravitate towards them so much. Hopefully we can stop referring to Shyamalan (if we haven't already) as, "The Sixth Sense guy".
Recommend? If you loved both Unbreakable and Split, then yes. If not, I would pass on it.
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