Sunday, January 20, 2019

Glass (2019)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Notable Cast: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woordard, Luke Kirby, Adam David Thompson

Even five years ago, Glass was an unthinkable film. If you told me that we would be on the third part of an Unbreakable trilogy and the third film in M. Night Shyamalan’s renaissance with a theatrical audience just five years ago I would have probably laughed myself into a heart attack. Yet, here we are in 2019 with Glass, M. Night’s third superhero film and the third film of his in a row to see a significant box office success. It’s unexpected and, while I often think M. Night’s early career can be a bit overblown, something of a welcome return to see him return to genre films and produce interesting pieces of cinema. Glass was something that I ended up being very excited to see.

Oddly enough, I’m not the biggest fan of Unbreakable, the first part of this trilogy. It’s seemingly anti-superhero style to delivering a superhero origin story is both wildly bold and awkwardly disconnected which, while massively respectable, doesn’t inherently hit me the way it did for so many other critics. Split, the surprise sequel/side-quel, is another story. Split was a film that I adored. It was rooted in a fascinating blend of genre concepts and intimate character work. Glass is strangely enough very much a sequel to both Unbreakable and Split in tones, delivering some oddly cold material, but stemming from a punchy genre concept that once again massively benefits from a riveting performance from James McAvoy. While the mixture at times can be a bit different than expected, actively avoiding some of the tropes of the genre while taking a flank to embrace others, Glass is a massively entertaining film that ends up being much more of a hybrid and natural progression of seeing its previous two entries melded together. It’s easy to see why many critics are lambasting the film for that mixture, but by the time the end credits rolled it felt like it was exactly where this series wanted to go even if some of the choices can be outlandishly hit or miss.

Glass very much maintains a classic three act structure for fairly consumable product. The film takes place a handful of weeks after the events of Split with David Dunn, played with only half of a ‘who gives a shit’ by Bruce Willis instead of his usual full ‘who gives a shit’ energy recently, on Kevin’s trail. The film brings the audience up to date with both David and his son, who are running their own security shop while he does his hero in a poncho thing. Quickly both Kevin’s The Beast and David Dunn’s now proclaimed Overseer find themselves on a crash course in this first act, but don’t get your hopes up that this film is going to be some kind of cat and mouse game. The film quickly moves the narrative to where it will spend the majority of its run time – with our two villains and reluctant hero held captive in a special facility meant to evaluate the subjects and run psychiatric tests meant to disprove their belief in their powers.  

While the opening is meant to essentially set up the narrative where our three main characters come together, it does have a kind of loose and fun feeling that utilizes the audiences understanding that Dunn and The Beast will clash. It’s that same genre bent that worked for Split here and once again McAvoy soars in his impressively diverse performance and audiences are treated to a few more of his identities. By the time that the second act rolls around, the film takes a quick turn back towards the theme heavy comic book inspired slow burn narrative that Unbreakable used as its main foundation. It spends a lot of time essentially reintroducing the same doubts about powers, self-realization, and character beats that were covered in both the previous entries. It reintroduces some main secondary players, Glass’ mother, Dunn’s son, and the sole survivor from Split, to round out the cast. There are a lot of interesting themes at play here, particularly in the sense that both heroes and villains have their supporters and that on both sides there are lessons to be learned and strength to be drawn, but the film doesn’t nearly dig into it in the emotional ways it might have. It plays things fairly loose with their character arcs, as mentioned they seemingly retread the arcs that were covered in previous films, and it’s here that the film struggles to find that single message that the previous two films nailed. Unbreakable was about finding purpose and balance, Split was about survival and using trauma to empower oneself, but Glass struggles to mix the two. There are hints that perhaps the film wanted to embrace larger questions of fate and how a people embracing their gifts can inspire others, but the film skirmishes to get those messages clear while maintaining some of the comic book elements of its actual plot.

However, even as Glass stutters to find its emotional and foundational core, the resulting film entertains as the mixture unfolds. The cast, even Willis to some extent, is seemingly game for any and everything that Glass has to offer and M. Night does not hesitate to link the events to the previous films in some fun and surprising ways. There is a sense that the film is a bit concerned that audiences will not remember Unbreakable (a valid concern, really) and has a few flashbacks for those characters, but the film is having fun with bringing the characters together again. The plot itself embraces its comic book influences in some surprising ways as it goes, enough so that the third act takes a few outlandish spins to service those connections in some unique ways. While those choices don’t always work, there are bold ones that certainly never cease to be enjoyable. M. Night uses the style of Split as the main visual style of the film here, rather than the very long and naturalistic takes of Unbreakable, which does benefit the story once it starts to push into exciting and some action-oriented material in the latter half. Even as the film makes that push, it actively refuses to play by the usual superhero movie tropes (there are no sky beams here, people) while still using them to portray its story. Fans of the series may enjoy what the film has going for it here, even if the film desperately needed that second act emotional development for the third act to work its best.

Glass is a film that is going to divide audiences in its own way by trying to find that balance and mixture between the worlds of Split and Unbreakable. It’s hardly perfect, mostly due to its lacking emotional resonance and message at the core of its characters, but where it does succeed is in that entertaining anti-superhero movie sentiment that is meant to undermine the current superhero formula while understanding its audience knows exactly what that looks like. It toys with the audience’s expectations (for better or worse) and then attempts to deliver on its promises in some fun ways. Truthfully, Glass feels like M. Night is more interested in making that sequel to Split than one for Unbreakable, but when you have such an iconic performance from McAvoy, I completely understand. Go into the film with a grain of salt and open mind and you might find some solid entertainment.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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