Has any filmmaker had a more up-and-down career than M. Night Shyamalan? When he hits his target the results are often magical. But when he misses he tends to miss badly and some of those pictures have turned out to be unbearable disasters. Yet he still pushes out his brand of movies and many of us still watch his films hoping we’ll get one of the good ones.
His 2016 picture “Split” was one of the good ones. It was a crafty thriller featuring a fabulous James McAvoy performance. But Shyamalan’s biggest twist came in the film’s final moments – a super cool surprise connecting “Split” to his 2000 movie “Unbreakable”. That brings us to his latest project “Glass”, his first dive into this wild and unexpected shared universe.
As someone who really went for his big twist, I was excited for “Glass”. It had huge potential both as an individual film and as a franchise launching point. Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and James McAvoy are all onboard as well as the return of some key characters from the two earlier films (Anya Taylor-Joy from “Split” and Spencer Treat Clark from “Unbreakable”). Yet despite having all the pieces in place for something really special, “Glass” turns out to be a hard nut to crack.
Sarah Paulson is a new piece in Shyamalan’s 130 minute puzzle. She plays Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating patients with delusions of being superheroes. Turns out Philadelphia has just the test cases she’s looking for. With Elijah Price (aka Mr. Glass) already in custody, that leaves Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), a man with 24 distinct personalities known as The Horde, and David Dunn (Willis), a home security salesman who moonlights as a mysterious vigilante.
As the trailer so clearly reveals, Dr. Staple gets her wish. Kevin Crumb and David Dunn are apprehended and sent to Ravenhill Psychiatric Hospital where Elijah has been kept since his arrest 19 years earlier. Dr. Staple is given three days to ‘cure’ them by deconstructing their delusions and disproving their so-called superpowers.
Of course this all plays into Elijah’s hands who (if you recall from “Unbreakable”) believes comic books are a reflection of the real world. His goal has always been to prove to the mankind the existence of super-powered people. And now he finally has his three essential pieces in one place – a hero, a super-villain, and the mastermind.
All of this allows Shyamalan to dig into what interests him most – psychological face-offs over physical ones. I can see this disappointing those with more action-packed expectations. This is not that kind of film nor is it remotely similar to what currently passes for superhero movies. The modest $20 million budget all but spell it out. “Glass” is very much the anti-blockbuster that sets its own rules and proudly sticks to them.
Yet with all of its promise and ambition, “Glass” sometimes has a hard time getting all of its pieces to fit. For example there are some noticeable holes in the story’s logic. There are also some glaringly obvious questions you would expect to be asked or answered by different characters along the way. Shyamalan attempts to offer some explanations to these things but I’m not sure he quite covers it all.
The performances are strong across the board. James McAvoy is given the most to do which is nice considering how good he was in “Split”. My only beef is that he bounces between personalities too frequently. There’s a perfectly satisfying reason for why he does so, but it leaves little time for him to dig deeper into any of them. Jackson and Willis are a lot of fun, Clark adds some extra heart, and Taylor-Joy is good even though some of her character’s motivations are a bit suspect.
Defining how I feel about “Glass” has proven to be a lot tougher than I thought it would be. I left the theater conflicted, but 24 hours later I felt I had a better grasp of what Shyamalan is going for. “Glass” is far from being the dumpster fire some proclaim it to be, but it’s no perfect film either. Still I think there is something to Shyamalan’s slow-boiling psychological approach and there is some real craft behind his visual technique. As it turns out “Glass” actually worked for me and I’m anxious to see it again. But it took some time to get there and I still find myself mulling over the final act..
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS