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FilmSoc Reviews: Glass (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)

Posted by FilmSoc on Mon, 04-02-2019

by Kieran O'Brien

Fans and followers of M. Night Shyamalan’s career will know that Glass is the final movie in a trilogy that began with Unbreakable in 2000, and was followed up with Split sixteen years later (although the two movies are only tied together by a mid-credits tag). In this respect, Glass is a big deal. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson both reprise their roles from Unbreakable as David Dunn, the reluctant hero, and Elijah Price a.k.a Mr.Glass, the genius supervillain with brittle bone disease. James McAvoy also returns as Kevin Wendell Crumb from Split, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder, one of whose personalities is The Beast, a super strong identity within Kevin that can flip cars and scale walls.

If you already know all this, then great, you’ll have a blast with this movie. If, on the other hand, you think this all sounds like a junkie’s fever-dream, this movie will probably not satisfy you. Glass sees the outlandish trio brought to a mental institution where their superhuman notions are being treated as mental health crises. It does a good job of recapping the basic events of the previous two films, so nobody new to Shyamalan’s hidden superhero franchise will be too confused, but they will inevitably not reap the emotional rewards of the film. For example,  some moments between Kevin and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a character from Split, are very touching, but a lot of the emotional weight relies on knowing and caring about Casey’s backstory from the previous film.

On a technical level, this film is amazing. One scene that links to Unbreakable that I won’t spoil had my jaw on the floor, wondering how on Earth they did it. There are some fantastic dolly shots and the colour palette is popping with character-driven blues, purples, yellows, and pinks. There are small, subtle flashbacks to the other films worked into the story that always heightens the emotion instead of feeling like exposition.

Putting aside Glass’s reliance on other films, is it good? Mostly, yes. The film is worth seeing for James McAvoy’s performance alone. Watching him seamlessly transition between his many personalities is a joy to watch. Each identity is so distinct that there’s never any confusion as to which version of Kevin is on the screen. Samuel L. Jackson barely speaks for the first half of the movie, but it’s a build-up that’s worth the wait. He pulls off the conniving and grandiose Mr.Glass without a hint of his usual cocky Sam Jackson persona, which is refreshing to see in an age where we mostly see him playing variations of Jules from Pulp Fiction.

Bruce Willis is giving it his all, but his character suffers from being completely sidelined. It’s honestly a baffling decision. It’s hard to understand why the main character from Unbreakable, the hero of the story, is given so few lines and barely a whiff of an arc. The first twenty minutes, which revolve mostly around him, are fantastic, and it was exciting to see how David Dunn’s crime-fighting operation with his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) works, but after this, the focus turns to Mr.Glass and Kevin. These parts are fascinating to watch, but nearly half an hour goes by without Bruce Willis even appearing on screen. As a big fan of Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy, I found this to be the most disappointing part of the film.

Glass doesn’t quite stick the ending either. There are some character moments that feel completely unearned and others that feel rushed and tacked on. As someone who deeply loves Unbreakable and Split there are some character choices that Shyamalan makes that genuinely disappointed me. That said, the film has a lot to love. I’m not sure if I could recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen Unbreakable or Split, but the solution is simple: watch those films before seeing Glass. They’re all completely unique and unconventional takes on superheroes and villains that are definitely worth watching if you’re feeling jaded about the usual crop of Marvel and DC releases.

Despite its flaws, I loved this film and admire Shyamalan for the work he's put into this unusual and refreshing superhero trilogy. Glass may not be the perfect sequel, but it's like nothing else being made today.

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