At the Movies with Hanover Matz
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs) returns to complete his superhero trilogy, connecting the plots of Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016) 19 years later in the character mash-up Glass. Rather than a resounding and earthshattering conclusion to the unexpected twist that these films shared a universe, Glass is more of an exhausted, amateurish attempt to breakdown the superhero genre in an era of cinema that has already transcended the tropes of the rehashed superpowered origin story.
Unbreakable followed the story of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), an average football stadium security guard who survives a catastrophic train accident and learns he may possess abilities beyond the ordinary. Split centered on the kidnapping of Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) by Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a mental patient suffering from dissociative identity disorder with 23 distinct personalities, one of which, the Beast, exhibits extraordinary strength and endurance. Unbreakable tried to function as a sloppy deconstruction of the superhero myth, but often got bogged down in misguided and underdeveloped plot threads and heavy-handed camera work. Split, perhaps the best of the trilogy, still suffered from its own narrative failings and skirted dangerously close to the edge of exploitative film making. Glass brings these characters together alongside evil genius Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), the titular Mr. Glass returning from Unbreakable, and psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Stapler (Sarah Paulson), but fails to address any of the weaknesses that plagued the previous films: disjointed story-telling, cluttered thematic material, and lazy cinematography.
Glass begins with David Dunn, now known on the streets of Philadelphia as the green poncho-clad Overseer, tracking down Kevin Crumb whose alter the Beast has been kidnapping and devouring innocent young girls. Their confrontation, which should be explosively satisfying after the build up from Split, is lackluster and disappointing, and filmed with irritating point-of-view GoPro-style shots that feel wildly out of place. After trading a few blows and superpowered bear hugs, the two men plummet out of a factory window only to be captured by Dr. Stapler and her team and sent to a mental institution where, conveniently, Elijah Price has been held (and heavily sedated) for 19 years.
The film then wastes an exorbitant amount of time on Dr. Stapler attempting to persuade David, Kevin, and Elijah that their superpowers are nothing more than fantasy, a psychiatric disorder that has convinced them they are more than average. An interesting premise on paper, the actual execution of this idea in a third installment of a superhero series where we have already seen characters bend metal and scale walls is as ridiculous as watching a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat, and then wasting 30 minutes of the show trying to convince you the rabbit was never real in the first place. After retreading the backstories of all three characters (as if Shyamalan and the audience forgot there were ever two previous films in the first place), the story finally wanders back on track around the second and third acts, but it is not enough to kick any momentum back into the plot. Coupled with Shyamalan’s obsession of shooting all the overly-expository dialogue in irritating close ups, it makes for a slog of a story rather than an exciting tale torn from the pages of comic books.
The redeemable aspects of Glass are the performances (Mr. Willis’ usual lackluster appearance notwithstanding). Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey Cooke, though underutilized, is finally given the satisfyingly empowering character arc she was robbed of at the conclusion of Split, and James McAvoy once again steals the show with his myriad of performances of the identities trapped within Kevin Crumb. Samuel L. Jackson and Sarah Paulson make admirable attempts at breathing life into the script as well, but it is not enough to salvage Shyamalan’s project from the shards it is reduced to by misdirection.
True to form, Shyamalan introduces unnecessary plot twists in the final act of the film. Without revealing how the conflict plays out between David, the Beast, and Mr. Glass, it suffices to say that these (somewhat predictable) twists add little meaning to the previous 1.5+ hours of film and feel stapled on as superfluous baubles rather than substantial story beats. The greatest failing of Glass is that it never makes up its mind what it wants to say about comic books or superhero pop-culture. It is neither deconstruction of myth (like the successful Logan) nor homage or parody (like Deadpool), and while cramming overly self-aware scenes of superhero tropes down the throats of the audience, it has nothing insightful to say about the mythos or its lasting appeal. With Avengers: Infinity War grossing over $2 billion USD last year, and over a decade of blockbuster Marvel films coming to conclusion in Endgame this year, Glass is too little too late, never asking the questions of a genre that has already given a definitive answer to those who would lambast its mass appeal: superheroes are here, and they are here to stay.