Movie Review: “Glass” – Split Decision

Written by Jeremiah Greville January 25, 2019

I was really excited for Glass. Unbreakable hit me like a brick back in the day, and Split was a welcome return to form for writer-director M. Night. Shyamalan. With the one-two punch of Split and Glass, Shyamalan was set to undue years of negative reviews and win back the respect and credibility he craved. Regardless of mixed reviews, he’s certainly pulled off some of that with Glass. That’s a big achievement that shouldn’t be understated. But those mixed reviews are earned—Glass is uneven and unfocused, with lots to love but even more to dismiss. I ultimately enjoyed it, but the flaws are very real. Shyamalan made the movie he set out to, and finished his Eastrail 177 Trilogy. He got what he wanted out of it. You might not.

Glass stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson reprising their roles from 2000’s Unbreakable, and James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy reprising their roles from 2016’s Split. When David Dunn/The Overseer (Willis) and Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Horde (McAvoy) are captured and taken to a mental facility by the mysterious Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), they’re treated alongside criminal mastermind Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Jackson) for the shared delusion that they’re each superhuman. Are these three men really capable of extraordinary feats, or is it all in their heads, as Dr. Staple suggests? They’re joined by Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard, who also reprise their roles from Unbreakable. If you’ve seen the first two films, that’s all the setup you’ll need.

“He’s changed over the years.”

To get the most out of Glass, you need to see Unbreakable and Split. Newcomers will have no problem following the plot, but the emotional legwork is all in the previous films. Put simply—you won’t care about anything that happens here without seeing the other movies. If you’re reading this review and still don’t know about the first two, here’s the basics (mild spoilers): Unbreakable is a slow-burn psychological thriller about Elijah Price (Jackson) trying to convince David Dunn (Willis), the lone survivor of a train accident, that David is superhuman. Split, meanwhile, is a psychological horror film about Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), a man with multiple personalities that kidnaps several girls in order to bring about a new, apparently superhuman identity that he calls “The Beast”.

Got all that? Good. As ridiculous as it all might sound, each film—Glass included—is a grounded look at superheroes and modern pop-culture mythology. Unfortunately, each film is also as naval-gazing and pontificating as possible about their meaning and deeper themes. Everything is spelled out, nothing is left for interpretation. Shyamalan isn’t subtle, and Glass suffers because of it. The film, as other critics have pointed out, seems to be annoyingly about his own place in the pop culture landscape. It’s fine to make a film that mirrors your personal journey. It’s not fine to make half of it suck to reflect your bad years. The first act is incredible, and the third act—while divisive—is entertaining as hell. It’s the second act, the longest chunk of the film, that keeps Glass from greatness.

“The Horde will never give up the light.”

The film comes to a shocking stop when the second act kicks into gear. The bulk of the film takes place in a mental facility where the main thrust of the film is about the characters questioning themselves and their abilities. Taken on their own, these scenes are a mixed bag. Some of the dialogue is clunky and the pacing is off, but they’re perfectly serviceable. If anything, the second act of Glass is a psychological horror more than a grounded superhero tale. Unfortunately, the question of whether or not these characters are superhuman was already answered in the previous films. It’s wasted time and completely insulting, especially as the third act begins. Yes, they’re superhuman—there’s no twist or spoiler here. It’s in the first act! While the second act makes sense, it ultimately drags and makes the film feel even longer than it already is.

The other point of contention that many will have coming out of the film is the ending. Yes, there’s a twist, and no, I won’t spoil it here. Some of it is a bit out of left field, and some of it feels cheap considering the journey to get there. But here, at least, I think Shyamalan is in the clear. The ending is his, and he seemed to achieve what he set out to do. The ending works, for what it is. The final act of the film is tense and entertaining, if a bit overwrought and overly telegraphed. You can see it coming a mile away, but that’s half the fun, because it’s the bit you’re waiting for throughout. Glass is a meal with a delicious starter and a fantastic desert, but the entree is nothing special. Part of this was by design, as the second act only starts to improve once the focus shifts to Samuel L. Jackson.

“Everything can be explained away. And yet…”

See, for a movie called Glass, based on the alter ego of the character played by Jackson, he gets very little focus until the second half of the film. He barely has any lines throughout the first or second act, and it isn’t until he finally speaks that the film starts to pick up once again. It shows how strong both the actors and characters are they are able to breathe life into the movie so easily. Yet it also raises the question, yet again, why Shyamalan refuses to use them for so long. Jackson is great when he’s allowed to act, and Willis, while underutilized, is still good as David Dunn. The scene-stealer, however, is McAvoy. He gets top billing for playing twenty (!) different personalities this time around, and it’s honestly remarkable how different each of them feels.

The other surprise is Spencer Treat Clark, reprising his role as David Dunn’s son from Unbreakable. Here he’s a grown man, and a lot of the film is dedicated to his journey. For a former child actor, he acquits himself well and his arc hits home. Unfortunately, Anya Taylor-Joy isn’t as lucky. Her acting is fine, but her character arc is never fully explained. Considering the events of Split, her actions in Glass don’t really make sense. There are aspects to her character that are hinted act but never fully explored, which is a shame since she was the biggest question going into the end of this trilogy. Shyamalan, however, seems content to leave us hanging and unsatisfied. Charlayne Woodard and Sarah Paulson are just as good as anyone, but there’s not much to be said about their performances. They’re there, and they’re fine. We’re happy to have them.

“Oh shit. It’s you.”

And I’m happy that Glass exists, despite all of its flaws. If you saw and enjoyed the first two films, and buy into this one fully ready to take the journey, then it can be worth it. There’s a lot to like. The performances are great, and there are several big moments that pay off almost two decades of waiting. That’s something. But the second act of the film almost dares you to hate it—it’s a slog at times, both insulting and pretentious. You may disagree with or dislike the ending, but at least that’s something where Shyamalan’s intent seems to be on screen. This was the trilogy he wanted to make, for good or ill. And now it’s done. The biggest point in Shyamalan’s favour is that Glass has made me interested in what his next film might be. This might be the end of the road for The Overseer, The Horde, and Mr. Glass, but it could be a new beginning for M. Night. He’s convinced himself his talents are real. We’ll be sure to judge on his next film.

My Rating: 7/10

 

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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