When M Night Shyamalan’s released Unbreakable in the year 2000, he was ahead of the curve. But now, the world has caught up with him.
And oh, how the world has changed. Bruce Willis, once the biggest movie star on the planet, has been made to surrender top-billing to James McAvoy, and Shyamalan, once the path-breaking genius, is now offering meta-commentary on not only comic books and comic book culture, but also, strangely, his career.
That he sees himself as the film’s villain – first name Mr., last name Glass – is worrying, but evident in the film’s odd understanding of good and bad, right and wrong.
Back in 2000, comic book movies were an anomaly; like their colourful source material, considered children’s entertainment. But not only are fans now on the same page as Shyamalan, in many ways, they’ve overtaken him. Both he and Mr. Glass strive to seek legitimacy for the comic book form, without realizing that the battle has already been won.
Samuel L Jackson is, as always, enthusiastic.
This is made painfully evident with the dated references that he insists on squeezing into his script – jokes about Nicki Minaj and Drake and Salt Bae, all equally embarrassing attempts to get with the times and to attract an audience bred on the Marvels and the DCs.
Glass, Shyamalan’s conclusion to his long-gestating Eastrail 177 Trilogy, in no way lives up to expectations, especially after the wonderfully unexpected Split – the middle film of the series – but neither is it completely devoid of ideas.
Unlike Split, which waded through many minutes of inactivity and built to a resounding conclusion, Glass wastes more than an hour of engrossing material for a confoundingly terrible conclusion, set in a (smallish) parking lot and riddled with glaring logical missteps.
Bruce Willis phones it in as David Dunn. Speaking of Willis, he’s given very little to do in Glass – besides being relegated to number two on the call-sheet, his David Dunn remains passive through most of the film, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d be willing to wager that Willis showed up on set only for his close-ups.
We catch up with him years after the events of Unbreakable, operating as a secret vigilante on the streets of Philadelphia, with his son, who plays a combination of Alfred and the Oracle, guiding him via wireless radio as he tackles crime.
If you’ve watched the film’s trailers and wondered whether most of the film seems to have been set inside a mental facility, it’s because it is. Far from being the epic comic book extravaganza that Shyamalan has been building towards for all these years – like the villainous Mr. Glass – Glass, the film, is a dialogue-heavy drama, confined to tight rooms, like its characters.
The central conflict here – and I imagine Shyamalan is riffing on the current state of superhero cinema – is whether or not appreciating these larger-than-life characters and their wonderful adventures is healthy.
James McAvoy is frighteningly good in Glass.
It cannot be doubted, however, that McAvoy is one of the finest actors alive, and most of Glass, like Split, plays like an excuse for him to be left unchained. He is unnervingly good in the film, which makes his third-act turn into a Bane-like henchman all the more disappointing.
Had Shyamalan not been so preoccupied with making statements about his own reputation, and then systematically failing to deliver on expectations that he himself has set up, perhaps Glass would have been the comeback that it should have been. Alas, we’re back to square one now.
Sarah Paulson plays a sinister psychiatrist in M Night Shyamalan’s Glass.
Sarah Paulson’s psychiatrist – who, through events best left unexplained, finds a way to unite and institutionalize David Dunn, James McAvoy’s The Horde, and also Samuel L Jackson’s Mr. Glass in the same facility – represents the naysayers, bent on keeping men like these in the shadows.
But Mr. Glass has other plans. Between making winking remarks at the audience, he goes about putting into motion the most ridiculous plan in the history of comic book villain plans. Jackson is clearly having more fun in the role than Willis is with his, which helps matters a little bit, but even his dependable enthusiasm isn’t enough to stop you from taking a pause and demanding answers from Shyamalan’s script, which is, as usual, inferior to his direction.
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