REVIEW: Glass (2019)

US Theatrical Release Poster – Universal Pictures

The following is a review of Glass — Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Unbreakable is my favorite film from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, whose career has been one of the bumpiest rides for any filmmaking talent in recent memory, and Split, Shyamalan’s 2017 secret continuation of the Unbreakable-universe, gave me one of my favorite experiences in a movie theater at the very end of the film, when Bruce Willis appeared out of nowhere to reveal that Mr. Glass, David Dunn, and The Beast exist in the same world.

In my review of Split, I wrote that that film suggested M. Night Shyamalan’s career could get back on track, but, now, with Glass, the ‘Eastrail #177 Train Disaster Trilogy’, fittingly, ends in a trilogy trainwreck. Though I appreciate his ambition, his ideas, and his intentions, the poor execution leaves a lot to be desired.

In M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass, we are reintroduced to the main characters of the Eastrail #177 Trilogy. David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis) is a heroic vigilante, who fights crime. Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy) is a man suffering from a severe, exaggerated, and superhuman case of dissociative identity disorder, who kidnaps young women for the purpose of ‘feeding them’ to the Beast — one of his 24 identities.

Elijah Price (played by Samuel L. Jackson), also known as ‘Mr. Glass’, is a terrorist obsessed with comic books who suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta. Since the end of Unbreakable, he has been hospitalized in a mental institution, but he is soon reunited with David Dunn and introduced to Kevin — ‘the Beast’ — when they are both arrested during a fight in an eventful prologue.

At the mental institution, Dr. Elie Staple (played by Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who is specialized in a very specific type of grandiose delusion, tries to convince our three main characters that they are not superheroes or superhuman — it’s all just in their heads.

With Glass, M. Night Shyamalan is doing something fairly daring. Shyamalan has intentionally taken a huge risk with his end to the fan favorite trilogy, and, even though he doesn’t quite pull it off, you have to, at least, respect the attempt.

With Glass, he has tried to subvert audience expectations. Audiences will walk into the theater and, for good reason, expect to see a much-discussed showdown between the Beast and David Dunn — with Mr. Glass pulling the strings. But, even though he does get to that showdown, Shyamalan does it in a complicated and ill-advised way. This isn’t really your cookie-cutter superhero movie.

Shyamalan clearly wanted to create a more cerebral and deliberately paced film. Shyamalan wanted to deconstruct a popular genre, and the attempt is very fascinating. So fascinating, in fact, that I would be interested in revisiting this film again and again, even though I honestly think Shyamalan has fumbled on the goal line. The film just doesn’t work for me, and it is largely thanks to Shyamalan’s ineffective execution and clumsy writing.

After the elegantly paced and fairly entertaining prologue, we get to the mental institution and then every sense of positive momentum fades away. A seemingly endless amount of exposition is delivered and repeated. Though you have to have seen Unbreakable and Split to understand anything about this film, Shyamalan has nervously designed much of this section of the film to remind you of everything you know.

The mental institution has designed Crumb and Dunn’s separate rooms so that they are unable to escape. A flashing white light forces Kevin to change his identity whenever he gets too close to the door or becomes too riled up. If Dunn tries to break the metal door, the room will fill with water — Dunn’s weakness.

Naturally, you’d be interested in seeing how Mr. Glass would mastermind his own escape. Unfortunately, for most of this film, he is in a vegetative state. So, yeah, what you end up with is Sarah Paulson, a great actress with a thankless role, repeating variations of the same line to supporting characters that are either underdeveloped or performed poorly.

The problem with Dr. Staple’s assertion is that the film hits you over the head with it. Somehow this film believes it’ll be able to make us reconsider whether or not these are just deluded individuals or true superhuman men, even though we’ve seen two films prior to this one that both confirmed — and confirmed to the other characters — that they were, in fact, superhuman. It is a lost cause for Shyamalan, even if it is an interesting angle for a superhero film from the 2010s to take.

After the film has trod water for what may feel like an eternity, we reach the long-awaited but somewhat underwhelming showdown. In this final section of the film, there are characters running into each other at an extremely convenient time, tiring and obvious comic book-lingo, an overabundance of twists, and an incredibly unsatisfying ending.

Though the underused Sam Jackson is perfectly fine in the titular role, the other major returning actor from Unbreakable — Bruce Willis — isn’t as lucky. You won’t be alone in thinking he’s sleepwalking through Shyamalan’s material, and, frankly, I never thought it felt like he was playing the same character from Unbreakable.

Thankfully, Glass has James McAvoy, who definitely deserved to be considered for a Best Actor nomination for his wild performance in Split. Though the identity ‘Hedwig’ is nothing more than a punchline here, McAvoy is definitely the best thing about Glass.

McAvoy all but does backflips in an attempt to hold your attention during the film’s dullest sections. McAvoy’s committed, loony, and extremely entertaining performance carries the film. Unfortunately, though his work is just as impressive here, the film lets him down.

Shyamalan is ultimately unable to mix and match the best of both worlds from Unbreakable and Split. Glass is a risky and ambitious sequel that suggests that its director’s original idea needed more fine-tuning to work now. Though Glass has a strong performance from James McAvoy, Shyamalan’s much-anticipated end to his first trilogy fails to live up to his own ambitions. The greatest trick Shyamalan ever pulled was making us believe he was ‘back in form’ already. What a disappointing twist.

4.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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