Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Delusional Superheroes, Et Cetera
The anticipation of Glass has been high ever since the ending of Split had that Unbreakable tease to reveal that there was a shared Shyamalan cinematic universe. Shyamalan partnered with Blumhouse productions to release low budget films like The Visit and Split that would go on to obtain huge box office numbers. It sounds like Shyamalan made the move to keep creative control, but it also proved that the director’s once tainted reputation was either just a phase or merely a myth.
Taking place three weeks after the events of Split, Glass sees The Horde (the nickname given to the 24 personalities buried within Kevin Wendall Crumb eloquently portrayed once again by James McAvoy) holding four cheerleaders hostage in an old clay brick factory. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has his own security service and store called Dunn Security, which is really a front for him and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) to patrol and protect the streets from local crime.
David has been making headlines as the hero known as The Overseer, but he sets his sights on stopping The Horde. The Beast and The Overseer eventually come to blows, but not before being stopped and captured by a psychiatrist named Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). Staple believes that this superhero business is pure nonsense and has three days to convince her new patients that they aren’t who they think they are. As David and Kevin attempt to adjust to their stay at the psychiatric hospital known as Raven Hill Memorial, they initially fail to realize that a practically brain dead Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is also staying in the very same hospital.
The biggest issue with Glass is that what fans want from the film and what they receive are going to be two entirely different things. The majority of the film is spent in that mental institution. The film has the one clash between two titans early on, but more than a third of the film is loaded with analyzing these three personalities and attempting to convince both the audience and these on-screen characters that they aren’t superhuman. It’s not that Samuel L. Jackson is misused in the film, but you’re left feeling like he wasn’t utilized enough. The finale of the superhero thriller sequel is written in a way that’s incredibly bold, but also fairly disheartening.
Shyamalan unites Unbreakable, Split, and Glass in a way that intertwines this trilogy of films permanently. Shyamalan also keeps his superheroes in a world that is totally grounded. These are people who can do things normal people can’t, but they don’t wear tights or fly. Shymalan never dives into bombastic territory, which seems on par with James Gunn’s Super or Chistopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. The difference though is that Shyamalan wants to showcase the importance of keeping a balance and maintaining order while a completely neutral side that is neither good or evil takes control. The world not knowing these types of people exist is a major drawing point for Shyamalan and their possible exposure means the world would never be the same because of it.
Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (It Follows, Split, John Dies at the End) works magic with the camera. While the film has a budget that is more than twice what Split was made for (and four times the budget of The Visit), Glass has a low budget atmosphere throughout and the characters are undeniably the focus. Gioulakis has a way of getting in the face of Bruce Willis or being mere inches away from James McAvoy’s face as he howls as The Beast during the most intense battle sequences between The Overseer and The Beast. Shyamalan had a distinct color plan in place for each main character (David wore green, Kevin was associated with an amber yellow, and Elijah had purple), but it’s also interesting that the mental hospital is associated with white and sometimes a light pink.
James McAvoy is better than he’s ever been in Glass. He covered nine personalities in Split, but according to the end credits he covers 20 in Glass. He’s able to drastically switch back and forth between them so often that it nearly feels simultaneous. Each personality is so different too with some being loud or quiet, one speaking a different language, one being highly intelligent, and another being a diabetic who needs insulin shots. It’s incredible to see that not only were these personalities created and constructed, but to see someone flip through that Rolodex at will is purely awe inspiring and flabbergastingly impressive.
Similar to the importance of a neutral stance in the film, labeling Glass as simply good or bad is extremely difficult. Shyamalan takes the superhero genre in an unexpected direction that deserves accolades for seeing that vision through from conception to completion and James McAvoy is a literal powerhouse who can seemingly do anything. But at the same time you can’t help but feel like there’s a ton of wasted potential after Glass is over. This is nearly two decades in the making and it feels like a waste. Glass is like a broken drinking glass that Shyamalan attempted to piece back together. His creative juices were poured into it as it tried to resemble something that would quench a 20-year-old thirst, but those juices leaked through the cracks and what’s left is merely enough to tickle the taste buds and leave you wanting more. Do you take the risk of drinking something semi-satisfying or reach for something else entirely?
© 2019 Chris Sawin