Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Glass” (2019)

M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to both Unbreakable and Split, Glass sees David Dunn (Bruce Willis) working in a security system store while also undertaking vigilante work at night with the help of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), eventually tracking down several girls who have been abducted by The Beast (James McAvoy). Following a skirmish between the two of them, they are both apprehended and taken to a psychiatric hospital where specialist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) tries hard to convince them that they aren’t superheroes and that there’s a rational explanation for their abilities. But the notorious Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) is also at the hospital and he makes it his mission to make the world see that superheroes do indeed exist and he makes plans to unleash the powers of both David and the Beast upon the world.

When I first saw Split as part of an Odeon Scream Unseen a few years ago, I found myself quite taken with it and, despite M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation for making some terrible films (the worst of which I thankfully haven’t seen), I thought that it was an imaginative, exciting and fascinating film that had an incredible performance from James McAvoy front and centre. It was only afterwards that I finally sat down to watch Unbreakable but, while it could indeed be seen as an underappreciated “early” superhero film, I thought that it was only OK, nothing too amazing.

Still, Split actually got me excited about the idea of a “Shyamalaniverse” and I eagerly awaited the meeting of characters from both films. Having now seen Glass, I’d say that it’s an alright film that’s on the same level as Unbreakable – it has some great performances and a couple of entertaining scenes but the writing is often a problem and it doesn’t reach the tantalising standard set by Split.

I’ve heard it said that the best thing about Glass is James McAvoy and with that, I’d have to agree. Just like with Split, he’s fully able to transition between his character’s multiple personalities flawlessly and in this film, we get to see so many more of them, actually making us believe that he has 23 separate identities all with their own identifiable body language, speech patterns and facial expressions. It’s a demanding role for an actor but McAvoy is again excellent and note-perfect in the role.

As the titular character, Samuel L. Jackson is also impressive as Elijah Price/Mr. Glass; for a generous portion of the film, he’s essentially comatose but when he finally “comes to life”, he shows himself to be an impressively devious, manipulative and incredibly clever villain and Jackson has fun as his character acts as the hidden mastermind, quietly putting all the pieces in place and proving himself to be a cunning strategist and adversary. Although, there are plenty of moments where he is shown in a sympathetic light and as the film goes on, we come to respect and side with him a lot more and by the time the film ends, you may just end up cheering for him.

Of the central trio, it’s Bruce Willis who fares the worst because, as with Unbreakable, David Dunn isn’t really that interesting of a character and despite a few select moments, Willis is more or less on autopilot for the duration.

As for the rest, Sarah Paulson is a good sport and tries her very best with her character who is mostly a plot exposition machine (labelled as an expert in “treating people who think they’re superheroes” – did she major in that in college?), Spencer Treat Clark is clearly relishing the opportunity to step back into the shoes of his Unbreakable character and Anya Taylor-Joy (oh, marry me, please! ❤) once again works very well alongside James McAvoy, their first reunion and subsequent scenes together often being the best parts of the film, but it’s a shame that she’s not in it a little more.

Looking at the film’s biggest negatives, it has the same problem that seems to afflict many Shyamalan films and that’s the less-than-skilled writing that constantly spoonfeeds information to the audience and overly explains things all the time. The first half of Glass is rife with this and in its plodding beginning, events from previous films are explicitly recapped and when it gets to the hospital, it falls upon poor Sarah Paulson to ladle out the expositional dialogue and, although Shyamalan should be given praise for his passionately imaginative story and desire to fulfil his decade long ambition in bringing this saga to a conclusion, the writing is often very clunky, it doesn’t hit the ear quite right and there are a few plot holes/contrivances. Things often get metatextual as well when characters – Mr. Glass especially – point out how events are unfolding as if in a comic book with self-aware lines such as “a gathering of the main characters!”; I suppose that it’s Shyamalan having a bit of fun by pointing out that the characters are in a comic book film but the fourth wall breaking is just a little too obvious and hits you over the head like a bat.

The overall story could’ve been a little better as well because in the grand scheme of things, given the buildup that Unbreakable and Split laid down, the film is ultimately on the underwhelming side and the final battle is alright but nothing extraordinary. Shyamalan also insists on including those famous twists and turns but in this film, he perhaps takes it a little too far until the whole thing gets a bit too convoluted and it somewhat undermines all that has gone before.

Still, the film isn’t without merit and it is a pleasure to see the central characters interact – in a small scale Avengers way, if you will – and when the expositional first half is out of the way, it’s fun and entertaining to see Mr. Glass enact his master plan and events leading up to the Avengers: endgame are tense and unpredictable. One of the film’s twists is also deliciously intriguing as it truly links Unbreakable and Split together and when a certain revelation is made, events get really interesting.

Not quite the conclusion it should have been, given the horribly expositional dialogue and uneven story, but still an intriguing chapter in the “Shyamalaniverse”, kept afloat by another masterful James McAvoy performance.

★ ★ ★

3 comments

  1. Oh I didn’t know there was a post-credits scene! That’ll serve me right for racing out of the cinema. Great review though, I couldn’t agree more. It had a lot of problems but James McAvoy shines!

    Like

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