‘Glass’ Cracks Under Pressure
by Ben Martin
For a guy who’s only been in the movie business a little over twenty years, writer-director and “actor” M. Night Shyamalan has had an exciting and versatile career. Throughout this time, Shyamalan’s work has had clear and distinct phases. The first phase of which not many people remember, in which he made two comedies: Praying with Anger (1992) and Wide Awake (1998). Unfortunately, I must admit that I don’t have opinions on these comedic efforts as I’ve not seen them. For better or worse, I got on the M. Night train around the same time everyone else did.
That’s right, in 1999, Shyamalan co-wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little (which was the first date of yours truly.) More importantly, though, the auteur also took the world by storm with the dramatic horror film, The Sixth Sense (1999). A movie that is not only well-crafted but beautifully understated. Plus, The Sixth Sense has one of the most surprising twists in film history. In fact, I rewatched this movie recently, and I feel it has only improved with age over the past twenty years.
The following year, Shyamalan decided to give his take on the comic movie genre with Unbreakable (2000). Mind you, back then the state of comic book movies was much different than it is now. Therefore, Unbreakable was a truly unique portrait of real-world superheroes and villains. It’s an understated, almost somber superhero drama. As a result, itis also a deconstruction of the genre of which it’s a part. The film subverts expectations; there are no major battles, nor apocalyptic stakes; which may not work for everybody. I, however, find Unbreakable to be a masterpiece of a comic book cinema, and still one of the most excellent examples of such in existence.
While ghost stories, comic books, and Signs (2002) served Shyamalan well, the writer-director could not stay on top forever. Audiences, myself included, started to tire of Shyamalan’s signature twists, beginning with The Village in 2004. A movie I missed in theaters, due to having a hamstring surgery. While recovering from that operation a friend of gave me The Village on DVD. A film which is so bad I could’ve sworn it caused me more physical and possibly mental pain! My friend agreed with my thoughts on The Village, going so far as to apologize for giving me the DVD.
Following that, Shyamalan began to work with bigger budgets and even bigger stars. However, the grosses box-office and positive reception of his next few films continued to diminish each time out. Eventually, such results led Shyamalan’s ego and view of his film craft to take a hit. Thus, he stepped away for a couple of years to re-evaluate his career. During this time, Unbreakable gained quite the following, leading many of to wonder if we ever get a long-rumored sequel to the film.
But an Unbreakable sequel was not to be, at least not at that at that time. However, Shyamalan did return to his lower-budget horror roots. In a partnership with indie producer Jason Bum’s Blumhouse Productions and the company’s distribution deal with Universal Pictures, Shyamalan made 2013’s The Visit. And while I admittedly loathed this picture, I appreciated that Shyamalan was at least trying to be creative again. Moreover, the filmmaker was also becoming a producer by investing his own money to make up part of the budget for The Visit.
The surprises (twists or otherwise) kept on coming with Split (2016). This B-level thriller was not only well-received by audiences it made big bucks. Overall, I found Split to be a decent suspense film that was a real showcase for its lead actor James McAvoy. What improved the movie though was its conclusion. (Which is pretty well-known and if you’ve read this far, you know what it is.) That is, Split is a back door sequel to Unbreakable. Sure, this reveal felt a bit forced; but I was filled with excitement when David Dunn (Bruce Willis) showed up and composer James Newton Howard’s theme from Unbreakable kicked-in.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Ben, why the heck did you take me through that long-and-winding road of a filmography?” Quite simply, because I feel that Shyamalan’s entire body of work has influenced the outcome of the movie I’m actually reviewing here, but more on that later. Glass is the third film in Shyamalan’s real-world superhero trilogy and a sequel to both Unbreakable and Split. Glass picks up nineteen years after the events of Unbreakable. During the intervening years, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has continued to be a street-level superhero stopping small crimes. As with any good, but unidentified hero, David has become known as “The Overseer” by a public who has seen little evidence of his existence. To facilitate his vigilantism, David runs a small security company with his son, Joseph Dunn (Spencer Treat Clark); who acts as his father’s equivalent of Oracle from DC Comics.
The father-and-son dynamic duo is on the trail of Kevin Wendell Crumb and his 23 other personalities known as “The Horde” (James McAvoy). Once David tracks down The Horde, the two engage in a fight. However, this fight it short as the two men are soon captured by law enforcement and Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who commits the two of them to a mental institution. Conveniently, Dr. Staple studies patients who she claims are under the delusion that they are comic book characters. Of course, that means that Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is also a patient at this institution. Soon the three men find themselves embracing their respective fates as heroes and villains!
Seeing as Glass is a crossover sequel, l suppose it could have turned out much worse. During the first act of the movie, I felt like I was not only getting the sequel to Unbreakable that I wanted; but one that nicely incorporated the characters from Split. The first 45 minutes of this picture is quite somber and rainy, perfectly in-line with the original film that bore it. Furthermore, Bruce Willis gives a good performance! For the first time in years, I felt like the actor was not merely going through the motions. Some folks might not agree with my assessment of Willis here, but keep in mind, David is a pretty sedate character. Also, McAvoy is once again delivering entertaining performances, even if he is chewing a lot of scenery-chewing going on.
Alas, once all of the main characters are placed in the mental institution together, Glass goes downhill. The movie becomes “Superheroes Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” as it makes its way through a series of dialogue and monologue scenes, most of which seem belabored. All the while, the film seems to lose its focus, concentrating far too much on McAvoy’s characters. As a result, Willis gets lost in the shuffle, and despite being the titular character, Jackson is all but wasted. The actor is catatonic for a large chunk of his screen time; not uttering a word until nearly the third act of the picture!
Glass is ultimately an uneven movie. The problem is I can’t decide if Shyamalan was trying too hard or not trying hard enough, but he sure is trying to please everyone. Yes, the film is well-made, but gone is the subtle, slow style that was a large part of what made Unbreakable so great. It seems to me that Shyamalan was attempting to meld together two films with disparate tones and approaches. Glass is not a bad movie, it’s just incredibly disappointing. While it is a decent follow-up to Split, I disliked the story arches for the characters from Unbreakable.
Even with all its issues, I’ll give Glass this. Like Unbreakable, Glass subverts expectations and feels somewhat experimental in the age of the comic book movie. Unfortunately, this film also feels like Shyamalan attempting to come to terms with the ups and downs of his career; all the while trying to please everyone. I only recommend Glass if you’re a completist. Or, if you want to support independent film, as it should be noted that Shyamalan mortgaged his own property to fund this movie. Either way, I doubt you’ll leave the theater feeling satisfied.
Glass is Now Playing in Theaters!