GLASS, the latest film from acclaimed writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, is the third film in his superhero trilogy, following Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016). Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson reprise their roles as David Dunn and Elijah Price/Mr. Glass from Unbreakable with James McAvoy reprising his role as Kevin Wendell Crumb (and his 23 personalities) from Split. The film also stars Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Anya Taylor-Joy (Split), and Spencer Treat Clark (Animal Kingdom).
When I first planned on writing this review, it wasn’t going to be overly positive. However, it had been about a year and a half since I saw Split or Unbreakable and figured it was probably in my best interest to read up on them before starting this review. I can’t stress enough how paramount it is to revisit both of these films, or at least read up on them, before watching GLASS so as to not find yourself confused with some of the plot points. With that said, what Shyamalan is trying to accomplish with his “Eastrail 177 Trilogy” is quite lofty, and though he doesn’t quite hit the mark, he doesn’t completely miss it either.
The film opens with us being reunited with David Dunn (Willis) prowling the streets of Philadelphia and committing acts of vigilantism. Aided by his son Joseph (Clark), we learn that they are trying to track down the location of the person responsible for a slew of murders involving teenage girls. Of course, those familiar with Split know the culprit, and it’s at this point that we wait for Dunn and whatever personality has come to the light within Kevin Wendell Crumb, to meet. However, their momentous occasion doesn’t go as planned and they find themselves committed to a psychiatric facility under the thumb of Dr. Ellie Staple (Paulson). This facility also houses Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Jackson), who I assume was transferred there after being apprehended in Unbreakable. It’s at this point, when all three are together, that Dr. Staple explains she has been given a few days to convince these men that they are suffering from a medical disorder which is affecting their mental state and are not, in fact, superheroes.
There’s a lot going on in this film and a lot to unpack, especially if you aren’t overly familiar with the previous two films. I’m in the minority within the film community in that I do not like Unbreakable. I understand it’s cult following and why people love it but I was more in-tune with Split as opposed to its predecessor. That said, combining the comic book themes with that of the more horror influenced ones from Split seemed like it would be a bit of an undertaking and, unfortunately, it shows. The comic book and horror elements didn’t mesh as well together as they could have which resulted in a film that had pacing issues and numerous plot holes.
Though I’m not someone who is big on comic books, I will say that I like how Shyamalan makes his “superheroes” more relatable, in the sense that they are just normal people who possess extraordinary skills that 98% of the population doesn’t. It makes the film feel more grounded as opposed to the big blockbuster Marvel films. However, I think the way in which GLASS was executed, one of which was to be meta, only made the reasoning and dissection of their “powers” too convoluted. At times, especially in the scenes with Dr. Staple, I felt like Shyamalan was spoon-feeding us explanations instead of allowing the mystique (no pun intended) to play out. The reason that Split worked so well was because you, as the viewer, were trying to figure out if Kevin was truly just mentally unstable or if there was some supernatural ability that kicked in when “The Beast” showed itself.
As far as performances go, I wish we could all just collectively give James McAvoy an Oscar because he deserves it for his portrayal of Kevin Wendell Crumb. I’m still mad that he wasn’t nominated for Split, and I’ll probably be mad that he’s not nominated for this, because he’s truly a remarkable and highly talented actor and it shows once again in GLASS. Quite honestly, he stole the entire show and is the best part of this movie. Bruce Willis wasn’t really convincing me he was all about his character whereas Samuel L. Jackson seemed to be enjoying his role much more than his counterpart. As a “on-the-fence all-the-time” fan of American Horror Story, it was nice to see Sarah Paulson in a role in which she’s not playing a witch or someone in constant turmoil. Her character comes across as believable allowing us to accept that she is truly trying to do the right thing by giving these men the help they need. However, the biggest “huh” moment was Anya Taylor-Joy. Reprising her role as Casey (from Split), I figured she would have a pivotal role in the film, and I guess some would argue that she kind of does, but it felt more like she was shoehorned in. Honestly, she could not have been in the film and it wouldn’t have mattered – for such a talented actress I expected so much more and unfortunately I think that comes down to the writing of Shyamalan.
Look, I know it may seem like I’m being harsh, but the truth of the matter is this film does have a lot of issues, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all bad. Shyamalan gets a lot of shit from people who always expect him to come out the gate with a perfect film and that’s not always going to happen. He took a risk with this trilogy and tried to show a more humanizing approach to superheros and unfortunately, in the case of GLASS, it fell flat. There were moments in the film that really shined through, especially when McAvoy was on screen, and then there were moments that left me scratching my head. I think the ending is going to be the biggest gripe for people as well as the focus on Dr. Staple’s medical theorizing on Dunn, Glass, and Crumb. The ending did leave me feeling disappointed and a part of me is hoping that there’s more to this story because if not, I don’t think Shyamalan made the right decision for these characters. In the end, I liked this film more than Unbreakable but it’s not nearly as strong as Split. I know the cool thing is to like Shyamalan when his films are received well and to kick him down when they aren’t, but regardless of the fact that I don’t think this is his strongest film, I still think he’s an incredible director who is willing to take artistic risks when others won’t. This coming Saturday, select Alamo Drafthouse’s will be having The M. Night Shyamalanthon which includes Unbreakable, Split, and GLASS back to back. I’ll be attending and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’ll shape my opinion after seeing all three movies directly in a row. All I’m saying is, give this film a shot, even if you don’t like it in the end you have to give Shyamalan credit for giving the superhero genre a unique spin. GLASS will arrive in theaters January 18, 2019.