Starring James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Sarah Paulson, Charlayne Woodard, Adam David Thompson, Luke Kirby
Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum, Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan
Cinematography by Mike Gioulakis
Edited by Luke Ciarrocchi and Blu Murray
Music by West Dylan Thordson
James McAvoy must have certainly celebrated for quite a while when he was first cast as the crazed villainous psychopath serial killer with supernatural powers, Kevin Wendell Crumb, in M. Night Shyamalan’s successful and unique take on superhero and comic book movies, “Split,” in 2016—the script allowed McAvoy to unleash a bravura acting performance playing a character with twenty-four distinct personalities, ranging from a cute, innocent 9-year-old straight on up to the leader of the various personalities, the all-out evil and crazy entity known as the Beast. In between were a bevy of characters, some likeable, some hateful, some intentionally bland, some quite interesting—what a challenge for any actor! This wondrous acting opportunity is every actor’s dream role—and McAvoy rose to the challenge, helping to propel “Split” into an unexpected critical and financial success for the continually-beleaguered, embattled, up-and-down writer, producer and director Shyamalan, whose career is as well known for being continuously analyzed and discussed as much as it is for his equally up-and-down film catalogue. Now, McAvoy gets to celebrate once again, as he once again wondrously—and excellently—reprises the intriguing, fascinating role of Crumb for Shyamalan’s new “Glass,” a sequel to “Split” and also a sequel to his first film in this odd trilogy, 2000’s “Unbreakable.” McAvoy steals the show in “Glass”–but, alas, unfortunately, the rest of the film is not up the same level of success.
“Glass” is to be praised for several filmic aspects, most notably’s McAvoy’s bravura, stand-out performance, but in consideration of the film’s entirety, the sum of those various elements, ultimately disappoints in the end, and overall, the film ultimately falters, resulting not in a necessarily bad or embarrassing or horrendous film, but just simply a big average film with big ideas and a scattershot, failed attempt to fully deliver on all of those big ideas. Thus, “Glass” is that odd film that is watchable, is worth thinking about, strives indeed to be intelligent and different, is to be praised for those aforementioned film elements, raises some quite interesting questions about superheroes and superhero culture of personality, but, somehow, the movie does not end up being fully satisfactory. And, once the mind becomes comfortable with knowing that this is a big average film, or an average big film, one’s thoughts immediately shift to the many ways in which Shyamalan—who wrote, produced and directed the film—could have made just a few simple changes, adjustments and slight tweaks, even—and ended up with a much better film, one that perhaps could have risen slightly about its current mediocre, medium-level status.
First of all, “Glass” is ridiculously slow-paced, with an uneven and at times even drudging tempo; the film is filled with hokey, campy and corny dialogue; the overall premise needed far more subplots to make matters more interesting from a storytelling standpoint; there needed to be more supporting characters to round out the main character’s narrowly-focused and insulated stories and back stories; there is far too little action, adventure, suspense or tension for a film that is supposed to be about superheroes with supernatural powers; the overall story line is too confining; Shyamalan places far too much faith in viewers’ willing suspension of disbelief; there’s an over-arching feeling that Shyamalan himself has been to this genre point far too often and he needs to tackle some new areas of filmmaking once and for all now and in the future; and, most glaringly, there are constant, insistent attempts in the film’s story, characterizations, messaging, moralizing and dialogue to dissect a subset of popular culture—superheroes, comic books, video games, animation, fantasy, sci-fi, outlandish action-adventure, myth-making, hero worship, superhero cultures of personality, pop culture in general and other related aspects of entertainment—and raise questions about these entertainment elements and question just how, why, where and when they belong in society, culture, show business and people’s daily lives. These are all questions worth asking—but Shyamalan already successfully drew from this well (yes, that’s a cliché, but it works here) with “Unbreakable” and “Split,” and, meanwhile, the entire genre of superheroes and comic book movies has already been dissected and analyzed to death, the genres have far surpassed the questions raised in “Unbreakable” nineteen years ago, the Superhero and Comic Book Movie Universe has moved on—keep it going, folks, there’s nothing new to see here, for the most part!—and, well, the new moviegoing universe cries out for more than simply slow-paced, introverted, introspective navel-gazing and pseudo-intellectual academic science fiction mumbo jumbo. That doesn’t mean that no one should think, analyze, be academic, be intellectual, be intelligent or raise questions—of course we should, every day—it’s just that the overall nature of the culture, society, movies, and these particular genres have changed, thus resulting in a need for new ways to analyze, question, and examine. Shyamalan seems, as he often is with some of this films, to be eternally stuck in a groove, a rut, a box of puzzles and enigmas that he can’t de-code, decipher or move away from in a new, fresh manner.
Thus, “Glass” is a perplexing, befuddled film that dares to ask questions in an intelligent manner—but not always in a consistently watchable, entertaining and enticing filmic manner. The film oddly succeeds with a rousing first act in which “Glass’s” basic story is set up and introduced, and succeeds with a brief, enticing—but, alas, also dreary, depressing and downer—third act, but its labored, too-talky, too action-less and, at times, even boring, second act drags everything down with it—including that third act. Thus, with a failed, too-slow, too-slow-placed, too-talky second act and a depressingly downer third act, “Glass” ultimately falls into that average film territory. Meanwhile, there’s McAvoy’s great performance, the captivating, jump-off-the-screen beauty, sexiness and presence of Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, a girl who was an intended victim of Crumb but who somehow transcended the violence and sympathizes with the character’s plight (a basic story device that always strains to be credible, which is a major story fault); Charlayne Woodward’s steady, comforting—yet also somewhat unbelievable—performance as Mrs. Price, the also-sympathetic mother of Elijah Price; and some hit-and-miss moments of introspection that—occasionally—cast a focused spotlight on those aforementioned societal and cultural questions about the very nature of superheroes and their surrounding cultures and communities. Those are the bright spots in the film.
However, some of Shyamalan’s basic story elements, as noted, strain for credibility. Crumb, in reality, is really a serial killer—who kidnaps and kills innocent people. That’s nothing to sympathize with. So it’s a continuing mystery why on earth Cooke should really give a damn about Crumb—even in a fantasy world where superheroes are seen as being repressed, hated, hunted down, lied to, cheated on, manipulated—and even killed. Elijah Price, in reality, is really also a psycho killer—who kills innocent people. So, yes, it’s touching that his mother stands beside him and behind him—that’s what a mother should do—but her care and caring for Elijah at times seems to strangely and conveniently skip over the part where Elijah, uh, mass murders innocent people. A mom is a mom, yes—but a mass murderer is a mass murderer, too. Basically—Crumb and Elijah are, at their core, unlikeable, hateful, violent, psychopath psycho killers, and there’s very little reason, despite their presentation as leading characters in “Glass,” to, even suspending disbelief, give an ounce of care or caring for these two characters. Thus, if you don’t care about and don’t like two of the leading characters—and there’s not really much to care about or like regarding Crumb and Elijan–well, there’s not much left to like or care about in the film. This, too, brings down “Glass.”
Then there’s Bruce Willis’ character David Dunn, the third major character in “Glass,” and a major character from a moment in “Split” and from a lead role in “Unbreakable” all those movie-years ago. Dunn, who runs a security company by day with his supportive son (Spencer Treat Clark, the now grown-up kid, Lucius, from “Gladiator”), is also a good superhero, now known in the media and society as The Overseer. Dunn/Overseer can psychically see into the minds, actions, visions and thoughts of people simply by touching them. Dunn/Overseer, like any good superhero, spends his free time roaming around Philadelphia attacking goons and thugs and criminals and stopping crimes in full-on vigilante mode, wearing only a funny-looking green poncho as his uniform (yet another questionable small detail—the poncho barely covers his face and barely hides his physique and, well, looks slightly goofy and doesn’t look too, well, superhero-like). But Dunn is indeed a good guy, and he provides the foundation character for people to like and care about in “Glass”—but only up to a point. In yet another infuriatingly bad decision, story-wise, by Shyamalan, Dunn for some reason disappears from the narrative, from the story and is swallowed up by the narrative during…most of the movie! So the one lead character that is good and likeable—isn’t present in a strong sense in much of the film—for no clear reason. “Glass” should have centered squarely, mostly, nearly completely on Dunn, Dunn’s dilemma, his superhero abilities, how he handles those abilities, and why he does what he does. All of that, for the most part, in a bigger way, is glaringly missing from much of “Glass.”
There is tons of potential for a Wild West showdown and hoedown between these three fascinating characters—Crumb, a multi-personality superhero consumed by twenty-four personalities and controlled by a monster called the Beast; Elijah Price, a mastermind criminal mass murderer who’s obsessed with superheroes, comic books and their place in society and the greater universe; and David Dunn, or the Overseer, a somewhat matter-of-fact blue-collarish-type of guy who just happens to possess superhuman power and strength and supernatural telepathic and psychic abilities to see into people’s minds. Imagine a greater story where these three superheroes—two murderous villains and one savior type who possesses certain Superman and Spiderman style superhuman strength—spin webs of deceit and deception around each other out and about in society, planning, conniving, deceiving, plotting, outwitting, battling and fighting each other on a grand scale! Yes, cliched-style, maybe even—battling to overtake or to save the world, or at least the Philadelphia region part of the world that Shyamalan focuses on in many of his films!! That’s a great set-up for a fascinating, epic superhero and comic book story, with all natures and types and kinds of mind-altering, mind-gaming, mind-blowing combat on several layers of psychic, telepathic, intellectual and supernatural levels of the universe!!
Nope, sorry, not this time.
Instead—are you ready for this?—Shyamalan completely blows all of the possible potential for these characters—and, ultimately, the potential for the movie—by having some type of secret society/FBI/Masons/Illuminati/Interpol/Trilateral Commission/Bilderberg Group/Old Men From “The X-Files”/CIA/MI6/Mossad/Council on Foreign Relations/Skull and Bones/Congress/National Security Council/NSA/Knights of Templar/Scientology-style organization track down all three characters—Crumb, Elijah and Dunn—and then promptly beat them, defeat them, arrest them—and throw them into cells at a psychiatric prison. Unbreakable? Unbelievable. Thus, for much of the movie “Glass,” three superheroes with fascinating powers are….confined to psycho ward cells. It’s obviously a major mistake, it’s a major letdown, and it’s, generally, a major bore. A supposed psychiatrist—whose inherent shadiness, mysteriousness and suspicious nature are not terribly hidden—thus spends much of “Glass” walking in and out of the superhero rooms trying to convince the obvious superheroes that they are not superheroes. This comprises that horrendous, overly-talky and generally action-less second act, and the entire premise, again, just drags everything down, down, down into some type of typical Shyamalanesque movie black hole.
And Jackson’s Elijah Price? He spends most of the movie’s first two acts sitting catatonic in a chair, with no dialogue, no action, no interaction to speak of, no, well anything. Really. It’s clear what Shyamalan is trying to do with the Elijah character—build up suspense and tension to, well, something happening down the line regarding Elijah, but in the greater context of the increasingly stifling “Glass,” the technique for Elijah ends up falling flat as well.
So you have a superhero movie in which, somehow, two of the three main superhero characters end up not doing much to remember or care about through most of the movie.
Movies set in psychiatric hospitals—with a few notable exceptions here and there, of course, through the years—generally don’t work well on many levels—mainly because they’re far too confining, constrictive and claustrophic—and they certainly don’t work well within the Superhero and Comic Book Movie Universe. And the premise does not work in “Glass.”
A better idea, again, would have been to have Crumb, Elijah and Dunn out in the world, scheming and plotting and battling it out over something, on a more grand, epic scale—you know, like in a superhero and comic book movie.
Moviegoers have been having fits about Shyamalan and his supposed up-and-down, cliched, predictable, narrowly-focused and, at times, even amateurish approach to fantasy, horror and science-fiction films ever since “Unbreakable” was released in 2000—and rightfully so. Shyamalan, now twenty years into his career since his debut film smash “The Sixth Sense” was released in 1999 (also with Willis in a lead role—and that’s possibly Willis’ best film role), is indeed stuck a certain rut and a certain place—this twist-ending, surprise-ending, stilted-dialogue, overly-introspective, slow-paced insistence on sci-fi, fantasy, horror and the supernatural. He really needs to do what the best filmmakers always do—branch out and try new filmic projects. Shyamalan needs to experiment, get out of his genre rut—and leave his comfort zone. His next five movies—really—should all be non-sci-fi/fantasy/horror/superhero/comic book films. He needs to direct a non-supernatural drama, a non-supernatural comedy, a non-supernatural thriller, a Western, a period historical piece, a biographical film, a war film, something anything other than what he’s been doing for the past twenty years. The best filmmakers see a challenge, approach that challenge, and tackle that challenge with gusto, talent, creativity and hard work—and those directors often end up refreshed, re-charged, and with a new, broad, successful level of respect, admiration—and achievement.
“Glass” provides a solid ending and coda to the trilogy and the story of “Unbreakable,” “Split” and “Glass.” And that’s a good time and place to provide a coda to a certain phase of Shyamalan’s career so far. It’s time for him to, for now, and for the foreseeable future, leave behind these supernatural- and paranormal-leaning films and, again, branch out to several other genres, experiences, outlooks, viewpoints, films and stories and make new types and styles of films. There are so many fascinating, interesting and captivating stories to be told, the choices and challenges are endless. Let’s hope that the next twist, the next surprise, from Shyamalan regarding films is that his next film has absolutely nothing to do with science fiction, fantasy, horror, the supernatural, the paranormal, superheroes or comic books. That would be a nice, welcome surprise from the Pennsylvania filmmaker.