Released: January 2019
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $20 million
Stars: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sarah Paulson
Nineteen years after finding out he is a real-life superhero, David Dunn (Willis) finds himself locked up in a mental institute after apprehending Kevin Wendell Crumb/the Horde (McAvoy). While Dr. Ellie Staple tries to reason with them that they are nothing more than average men with delusions of grandeur, the titular Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Jackson) plots to prove to the world that extraordinary individuals are an everyday reality.
It seems like a life-time (mainly because, for many people, it actually is) since Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (ibid, 2000). After a turbulent career as a director, he finally snuck a continuation right under our noses with Split (ibid, 2016) and, before you know it, we finally get to see where David Dunn’s life has taken him since realising he has extraordinary gifts. A sombre, brooding character piece, Unbreakable presented a very real world almost identical to ours with the sole exception being the superheroes exist, albeit in a dramatically realistic form; since the, the superhero genre has expanded and exploded into a cultural phenomenon so the question is whether Shyamalan’s more introspective approach still works in the age of the superhero blockbuster.
Strangely, considering how long we’ve waited for an Unbreakable sequel, Glass is more of a sequel to Split that happens to co-star Bruce Willis than a true second chapter. Right off the bat, Dunn (now dubbed “the Overseer”) is working alongside his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), to actively pursue Crumb, whose emergence as “the Beast” has driven him to take further hostages. Captured and taken to a specialised hospital, Dunn, Crumb, and the largely comatose Mr. Glass where Dr. Staple spends the majority of the movie trying to prove that their extraordinary gifts are simply delusions of grandeur.
This, while the heart of the movie, is a less-than-stellar premise; after all this time wanting to see Glass and Dunn truly butt heads and being promised a battle of wits versus brawn, we instead get a lot of introspective analysis into the psychoses of these individuals which would be fine except we know from Unbreakable and Split that these three are all capable of incredible things so it seems like a bit of a waste of time to dwell on these aspects rather than seeing them do what they do.
This is especially true considering that I’m pretty sure that everyone saw Split so I can’t imagine there were too many people in the audience who don’t know about the three central characters. This all works to the film’s detriment; for a movie titled after him, Mr. Glass isn’t really in the movie that much (Jackson even receives a “and…” in the opening credits, as though he is a bit-player rather than a main character). Sure, he is the master plotter and manipulating events, but he spends most of the film drugged up and out of it, leaving the majority of the movie to showcase more of McAvoy’s incredible talent bouncing back and forth between the Horde’s different personalities. Again, though, we know this and saw it to great effect in Split; equally, we saw a regret-filled, morose Willis in Unbreakable and, despite doing good work and being a more seasoned guardian, he’s still largely the same character here, to the point where even he starts to doubt his abilities despite being fully aware of what he can do. While it’s good to show Bruce’s range, it hardly makes for groundbreaking cinema and is far from what I expected to see in the cumulative chapter to Shyamalan’s trilogy.
Shyamalan pulls three major twist on us in Glass; the first is that Elijah has been faking his condition the entire time and has secretly been manipulating events to team up with the Horde. However, the trailers already spoiled this so it’s not much of a twist; I think it was also quite predictable that it was Glass’s actions in Unbreakable that set in motion the events that created the Horde so, again, this was all par for the course for me.
The second twist is that Dr. Staple is actually part of a secret society that seeks to suppress all superpowered individuals. Her primary approach is to convince them, through the meticulous charade of posing as a psychiatrist, that they are suffering from delusions of grandeur; the second is a laser-based lobotomy of sorts that removes their abilities; and the third is simply to kill the individuals. It seems that Shyamalan is potentially setting up for another movie where this Cult of Shamrock (they’re not named but they all have little cloverleaf’s tattooed on their wrists…) strikes back against numerous awakened powered individuals but I highly doubt that we’ll get that movie after the ending of this movie…
Which sees Dunn, Glass, and Kevin all dead.
When he finds out Glass caused the death of Kevin’s father, the Beast kills him with a simple strike. This is fair enough, I could cope with Glass dying after setting the Beast loose and revealing superhumans to the world. But then Split’s Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), now seemingly somewhat attracted or at least empathetic towards the Horde, manages to suppress the Beast long enough for the Shamrock’s to plug him with a sniper bullet and kill him. That was something I definitely did not see coming; Glass spent most of his timing convincing the Beast to fight Dunn at the opening of some skyscraper so I expected him to plummet to his death in that battle; instead, he never make sit across the bloody car park before bleeding to death from a single sniper bullet!
But the absolute worst twist is that David, who was attacked by the Beast and weakened due to being partially drowned, is randomly drowned to death in a sodding puddle by some unknown grunt. He spends the majority of the movie doubting himself when he has no reason to, finally takes up the mantle of the Overseer once more, fights the Beast very briefly, and then is just choked to death by some randomer. Hardly the outcome I expected from this long-awaited sequel and, considering that the film ends with Joseph, Casey, and Elijah’s mother (Charlayne Woodard) posting all the footage online so the world is made aware of superhumans, it really makes you wonder what harm it would have Dunn to have had Dunn be the sole survivor and be faced with the prospect of a lot more superpowered people coming to light. Instead, it sees like Shyamalan wasted the last of his goodwill getting Willis and Jackson (but especially Willis) back for this movie and decided to scrub them all off and bring in some more reliable (or unknown) names for the next movie.
Glass is a mixed bag; it’s literally like three or four different movies all smashed together and it jumps across itself more often than Kevin cycles through his personalities! It starts off decent, wastes a lot of time in the middle, and then totally falls apart in the finale. Truly, this was a massive disappointment after such a long wait, and I don’t think anyone who was a fan of Unbreakable or Split will be satisfied with the way this film ends. It seems like Shyamalan was too concerned with subverting the superhero genre but we’ve seen that done numerous times, and he already did that in Unbreakable, and it causes Glass to get too bogged down with its own self-indulgence rather than expanding and exploring this universe in a natural, organic, and exciting (or, at least, interesting) way.