Glass

Release: Friday, January 18, 2019

→Theater

Written by: M. Night Shyamalan

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

All the pieces finally fall into place for M. Night Shyamalan and his long-gestating superhero trilogy with Glass, in part a direct sequel to 2017’s psychological thriller Split as well as a belated return to the awe-inspiring identity crisis established 19 years ago in Unbreakable. Glass is far from perfectly polished, but against all odds the third and final chapter not only justifies its own existence, it justifies everything leading up to it, notably the ending to the last installment.

For what it’s worth, Anya Taylor Joy wasn’t the only one being held captive that day. I was such a prisoner of the moment, convinced the writer/director had just written and directed himself into a corner he was at the same time being pressured into by modern industry trends. But this knee-jerk reaction failed to take into account that Shyamalan had wanted to expand upon ideas established in Unbreakable years ago but just couldn’t get a studio to bite on a Part 2. In fact Split‘s compellingly deranged anti-hero was extracted from a ditched subplot in Unbreakable and in (one of Shymalan’s favorite things) a twist of fate, that film, unlike its predecessor, was immediately embraced critically and commercially. And now here we are, at the end of the line — the culmination of what we should, I suppose, formally recognize as the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. Not a very sexy name, is it?

Glass technically begins three weeks after the conclusion of Split, reuniting us with David Dunn (Willis the Bruce) and his now-grown-but-still-believing son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), running a little Bruce Wayne-like operation in the back of David’s own private security firm, with Joseph keeping online tabs on the seedy activity taking place in the shadows of metro Philadelphia while his father “goes for walks,” physically immersing himself in those shadows, brushing up against — well, you know how it works. We first see The Overseer, as he’s now known amongst internet fanbases, taking down a punk with a mean-spirited YouTube channel, confronting him in his own house and overpowering him by some margin in a bit of gleeful fan service.

The story proper is set into motion when David and the notorious kidnapper Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) are escorted to a remote psychiatric facility after a skirmish that spills out into the streets. Even though David successfully frees a group of high school cheerleaders Kevin and his multiple personalities (a.k.a. “The Horde”) have chained up in a warehouse, not everyone views his vigilantism as being in the best interests of the public. Kevin’s behavior is much less defensible; why they are both punished equally here kind of defies reason, but then again airtight logic has never been one of Shyamalan’s superpowers as a writer. Regardless, the pair are going to be having a little chat with a Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who specializes in a very specific kind of delusion. The “I believe I am a superhero” kind of specific.

This of course is the same facility housing David’s nemesis, Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), who, despite his near-comatose appearance, is under the most severe scrutiny given his propensity for manipulation and deception. Dr. Staple’s job is to convince her patients that what they have been experiencing are merely complex coping mechanisms after having lived through trauma. Yet within the context of the entire saga, the character — less a human and more a plot device, granted — represents an evolution in perspective. Unbreakable posed the question of whether or not superheroes really walk among us and it did so by comparing the naivety of Joseph versus that of his father; the point of view was private, personal, highly contentious. In Glass that perspective is systematically denied. Instead this is about an institution that believes it has the ultimate perspective. As the woman in the white lab coat suggests, if superheroes are real why are there only three of them?

If you want dissenting opinions, you’ve come to the right place. I was really impressed with what Shyamalan was able to create on such a modest budget, funding the $20 million project himself. (I wonder what my life would be like if I had that amount to throw at one thing.) Budgetary constraints are on display everywhere: they explain why we are for a large portion of the film trapped more or less in a single room with a “field expert” who enjoys bludgeoning her patients (and us) with medical jargon and bureaucratese. They explain the incident in the parking lot, the pistol and the pothole — the latter representing a truly creative resolution for something we all saw coming. Yet I can’t say the low overhead necessarily enhances the experience, either; it’s never less than a nagging thought that the film might have gone a different direction with just a little more money behind it.

Whether that would have been a more satisfying direction is obviously speculative. Going out with a bigger bang might have been more visually gratifying, but it would also risk violating the code of understatement Shyamalan has remained faithful to. As it stands, there is a surprising amount of weight that accumulates at an emotional and psychological level, and it is still the performances that make the movie. In its closing moments the actors are reaching some pretty spectacular heights (Willis aside, I won’t dissent on that widely-held opinion). I maintain that Mr. Glass is up there with some of Jackson’s career-best work, he’s a tragic and complicated figure. Meanwhile, McAvoy somehow one-ups his previous effort in Split by embracing even more of The Horde. In the process he illuminates his internal pain and turmoil in ways we haven’t yet seen.

Despite several blemishes in the script (inept orderlies, anyone?) and the fact Shyamalan reaches for but never quite achieves profundity, Glass ultimately succeeds in bringing closure to a series and a unique set of characters. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest this is either a swan song or a magnum opus. It’s simply a compelling film chockfull with geeky references to comic book lore and the culture surrounding it, and it is arguably his best effort in nearly two decades.

“Do it! Say osteogenesis imperfecta one more time . . .!”

Recommendation: Glass isn’t the event film most comic book adaptations are compelled to become and that alone feels refreshing. Getting to see all three characters share the screen is exciting, with James McAvoy being a true stand-out. The story is absolutely steeped in the language of comic books (becoming super-meta at the end with certain characters observing how reality is merging with events depicted in the comics — a nice touch even if a bit silly), and yet I think there is plenty here to recommend to viewers who aren’t hardcore about collecting and reading comics.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “This was an origin story the whole time.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

12 thoughts on “Glass

  1. heh, seems we are at total opposites here. I’m report when i’m a little more sober, but I refuse to believe that Unbreakable had either of the recent two in mind. I’d like to, and if I searched around a bit a little less lazily i’m sure Night actually said it somewhere. But if he didn;t… I dunno, I don’t buy it.

    I’ll be back.. ;P

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    • It was back when he made Unbreakable M. Night had plans of making a direct sequel. He however failed to get a studio to finance it, so the project was scrapped. I am not sure if he ever envisioned Split back then, but it makes sense to me — only now of course, I hated the ending to Split back when I first saw it — that he would actually keep milking the superhero story. It is what is sadly en vogue these days. Me, personally? I would take these smaller, more “realistic” looks at what it feels like to be a superhero in the real world over all these loud, bombastic, special effects-driven event films that has been pretty much the entire box office since 2008.

      But I definitely also see where others don’t like it or have a lot of trouble taking it seriously. There are a lot of moments that seem to be unintentionally funny. I think his writing is still pretty weak. And the limited budget shows so much in the film, especially the “big” showdown. I just looked at that and the way the character arcs were resolved as him getting as creative as he could with what money he had to work with ($20 million of his own funds, I read). So in that way I left kinda impressed with it.

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      • ahh okay. Makes sense, I couldn’t find that when googling but there ya go.

        I couldn’t take it serious at all man, i really couldn’t. I coughed on my doritios when I heard the lady say ‘specialising in people with delusions of being a superhero film!’
        If it was an intentional satire of the current superhero trend/dark comedy I’d have given it full marks cos I had a ton of fun and laughed a lot 😛

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        • Ha! I nearly choked on my coffee reading the line about you coughing on your Doritos. Jesus. That was funny man. And almost painfully ironic.

          No, you’re right. The dude sets himself up for fucking parody in almost every scene of every movie he’s made. I think once you get the twist about Sarah Paulson’s psychiatrist and what she is really doing, her existence sort of makes more sense but yeah I really thought it was stupid how she specializes in patients who believe they are superheroes. The convenience of that was just plain silly

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          • Hehe 😛

            The sad thing though man? I was stone sober for once when I saw this, and I do not remember the twist about her character at all =/ Didn’t even remember there WAS a twist until you just mentioned it. I just remember someone yelling about their backstory and just shaking my head 😛

            Hehe it seems we both actually enjoyed the movie, just in very different ways 😀

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  2. Pingback: Month in Review: January ’19 | Thomas J

  3. An accurate assessment of the film, I think. Your comment that “Shyamalan reaches for but never quite achieves profundity” is what separates Unbreakable from its two follow-ups — the first film does achieve some kind of significance or meaning to the viewer beyond just superhero-esque thrills, whereas Split and Glass don’t really transcend being genre movies (although they are somewhat subversive of their genres, at least).

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  4. So wonderfully articulated. As you know we both share pretty much the same take on it. “the third and final chapter not only justifies its own existence, it justifies everything leading up to it”. Spot-on.

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  5. I need to see this sometime. I loved Unbreakable and must confess being a little mixed regards Split, but certainly I’d much prefer something risky/different/flawed as these three movies compared to safer superhero projects. I love Watchmen, flaws and all, if only because it offered commentary on the genre rather than simply expect me to be dazzled by costumed heroics and fancy cgi. There is a tendency to inflate the importance and quality of Marvel/DC movies, as if people forget that they are basically silly fantasies based on children’s comics. Okay, I’ll likely get burned for that last comment but its funny how the escape they offer, the good/evil and heroes and villains, universal concepts as they are… how long before they slip into self-parody? What on Earth will people choose to go and see in cinemas when this current popularity fades? Westerns? I don’t know. Is there cinema beyond the caped crusaders?

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    • Over-saturation of the market place is a legitimate concern, at least for those of us who want a little more parity to their weekend/summer offerings. The superhero genre has swollen to encompass pretty much the entire cinematic landscape. I don’t mind the sheer volume itself, I can pick and choose what I’d like to see and having that freedom to say no once in a while is pretty cool. However, and as you pointed out, it is Marvel (and decidedly more so them than their competitors) and their insistence that we take the plight of the superhero so seriously we end up leaving theaters in tears (see: Infinity War). It has all gotten a bit too self-aggrandizing.

      Pure speculation on my part, but I feel like the popularity of these things is driven more by the star power than the characters/plots themselves. Where would all this have gone had Tony Stark been played by the likes of, oh I don’t know, Steven Dorf? What percentage of the general moviegoing populace was aware of King T’Challa and Black Panther?

      Good for Kevin Feige for becoming richer than god himself, though.

      I really go for films like Glass/Unbreakable that keeps everything grounded (arguably a little too grounded) and where the characters remain the sole focus. Split was a bit of a different beast, it was far less subtle and though McAvoy was great in it and maybe even better here with more work to do, that chapter to me doesn’t really compare.

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  6. Another outstanding review, Tom. I had no interest in seeing this and you’ve convinced me otherwise. I enjoy your speculation and analysis. I do like the colors in the film. That Pepto Bismol room would have me confessing anything.

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    • Pepto Bismol room. I like that. Yet more evidence of Shyamalan’s creativity here. He gets a lot of character out of this cold, sterile place.

      I really enjoyed the way this all came to a close. The performances are really quite impressive, especially McAvoy. He is really something here.

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