Movie Review: ‘Glass’
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard
Plot: Mr. Glass, The Horde and…Unbreakable?…find themselves in a mental institution being cured of their ‘delusion’ of super powers.
Review: When you get right down to it, Shyamalan is the most over-rated director in modern cinema. He came out the gate strong with an over-rated thriller that hinged on a big twist and then started going from worse to worse, ultimately releasing what is considered some of the worst films of the past 20 years. Yet, somehow, he has people lurking around corners ready to leap out and declare his grand return to form whenever he makes something that reaches the level of basic competence. This happened in spades following the moderately fun but awkward and loopy The Visit and Split, his supporters firing up their loudspeakers to broadcast to the world that ‘The Next Spielberg’.
Regardless of what you thought of Split (it sucked), you have to acknowledge that Shyamalan has gathered some good will. He immediately took advantage of this by teaming up with Blumhouse of delivering the long sought follow to Unbreakable. He then immediately squandering that goodwill by making Glass.
Don’t be fooled by the middling critical reception, this is a terrible movie in every part of the process. We’re going to look past the Shyamalan standards of pseudo-arty but mostly awkwardly framed and blocked cinematography and weirdly stilted dialogue that makes everyone sound like a lizard person in a skin suit, because they’re in every film he makes. Just assume that it’s written and directed terribly and we’ll focus on the problems unique to Glass.
A few things to note if you went back to rewatch Unbreakable before Glass…the established rules are out the window. David Dunn (Willis) was revealed to be immune to injury and sickness, his Achilles Heel being drowning (does that include suffocation? Never came up…). In Glass he retains his super strength but we’re not clear on him being unbreakable. It doesn’t play any role in the story and never gets discussed. Being vulnerable to drowning has been retconned to being splashed with water removing his powers. Wait, what happens if it rains? What about the water in his body? What’s with Shyamalan and water?
Anyway, his super-smart villain counterpart Mr. Glass (Jackson) has been locked up and Dunn is a vigilante with his son (Clark) operating as the guy in the chair. He’s particularly keen on catching ‘The Horde’ (McAvoy), who has something like 6 personalities, one being a psychotic monster cannibal guy called ‘The Beast’.
Before you jump down to the comments to point out my error, I am full aware that the marketing for Split banged on about him having 25 personalities, but I’m only going to count the ones we actually see.
Dunn finds The Horde fulfilling the director’s weird cheerleader fetish and they fight before being captured and locked up in a mental hospital. Dr. Staple (Paulson) is working to convince them that they don’t have super-powers whilst completely ignoring The Horde’s other glaring mental health issues. All of this is actually completely provable. When Staple asks Dunn to ‘prove’ that he has superpowers he doesn’t do the sensible thing of saying “I volunteer for a blood test’ to show that needles can’t penetrate his skin, or saying “shake my hand” to reveal all her dark secrets. He doesn’t do this because this is likely a first draft and they hoped no-one would notice.
The narrative structure of the film is a complete bloody shambles. We have three main characters as our focus. Mr. Glass appears for maybe a minute in the first have and Dunn for even less in the second act. Given that the movie is two and a half dull hours this means our A-List stars are notably absent for very long stretches of time. They also forgot to populate the set with extras as for the longest time we only ever see our leads and one staff member at a time. It comes as a genuine surprise during the finale when we see large numbers of people being evacuated as it was the first and only indication that there was more than 5 people at a time in the building. Of course, the only reason there’s one orderly staffing the place at a time is for contrived plot reasons.
Now for spoiler territory. The film goes on and on about some secret surrounding The Horde’s father and some new giant building they have to get to for some reason. Then we learn that the Horde Snr. died on the train Dunn discovered his powers on and they never go to the building. Then the three of them fight and some cops turn up and kill them. Then the movie continues on for 20 mind-numbingly boring minutes.
The premise, revealed in a twist because of course it is, is that Staple is part of a group who keeps the fact that comics are real a secret by convincing super powered people that they’re…not? Then killing them if that doesn’t work. They try to play it off that Dunn was convinced he wasn’t super-powered although they’d given him no reason to believe this was true.
At the very core the concept behind the trilogy is that comics are real, and Mr. Glass forms all his plans around comic book narrative tropes. But everything he spouts about comic books is blatantly false. Shyamalan seems to have based his entire understanding of superhero stories on a quick glance at some Golden Age DC titles, or even just old films. Mr. Glass repeats often that the secret to the villain will be revealed through their parents. This isn’t a comic book trope. He talks about them being revealed to the world. This hasn’t been a trope outside of movies. He talks about a big, Earth changing finale but comics are defined by being ongoing narratives that get picked up every month. They’re more akin to soap operas in that they don’t plan on an ending, but instead change things up to keep it running for years, even decades. Most major comic titles have been active longer than you’ve been alive.
In the most perplexing moment of the film Anya Taylor-Joy announces, apropos of nothing, that Superman didn’t even fly in the original comics as some kind of proof that superheroes are real. Not only does this line make no sense in the context of the scene but it feels like the one random bit of trivia Shyamalan found interesting but didn’t know what to do with it.
So the movie fails as a concept and a story.
The only redeeming feature of the movie is James McAvoy. He is genuinely brilliant in how he realised his multiple characters and it’s testimony to his ability that we can tell who he is by a glance at his posture. Willis and Jackson look bored and Paulson struggles with Shyamalan’s weird, unnatural dialogue. There’s a fun gimmick where Dunn’s son is played by the same actor some 20 years on, but he’s not directed well enough to make it work. I’d say that he’s the worst performer in the movie if it wasn’t for Shyamalan himself in his usual obnoxious cameo.
By the time we reached the finale and the only confrontation between the three characters we’ve been rendered numb with boredom and confusion. The fight is hardly electrifying, being mostly shot as a series of close-ups on people’s faces. Then the movie keeps going, revealing twists about characters we don’t care about, plot elements that hadn’t been introduced until this point and other nonsense.
Shyamalan has no clue what he is doing. He loves jamming things in the foreground, or positioning the camera at a weird point in the room, but none of it serves a purpose. If you’re going to break the rules of visual story-telling you have to have a reason for it, or at least make it look good. Shyamalan fails to do either.
Aside from McAvoy’s performance this movie delivers nothing of value. It would have worked out better if it wasn’t made and associated itself with the one good film Shyamalan managed to make.
Rating: TWO out of TEN