In Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, he goes head to head with the idea of “belief”. A theme that branches in many directions – the suspension of disbelief, self-doubt, and the smothering of the truth at the hands of naysayers – but at the essence of Shyamalan’s answer to Hollywood team-up movies lies muddied waters. Allegories for a career often torn to shreds by critics but still going, an open hand for those told they’re not special, and the idea of underdogs refusing to be silenced by those who would put them down.
Characters from Unbreakable and the sleeper hit Split share the screen together in Glass. When humble hero and father David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was revealed to live in the same universe as Kevin (James McAvoy) during the final scene of Split, it was a safe bet another film would come down the pipeline to serve as the bonding agent for this unexpected trifecta. The hype was justified, after all, to see characters from different projects unite under one umbrella is something rarely seen outside of huge tentpoles. With Elijah/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) completing the group, in our midsts lie three vastly different characters who represent different symbols of superhero tropes. If Unbreakable was a subtle shot taken at the grand scheme of good vs evil and its balancing act, Split is the anarchist that throws out the rulebook but still somehow paints by numbers.
When the supernaturally-inclined trio is placed in the same psychological institution after crossing of paths, they are brought together in an odd sort of therapy session with Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), played with an unnerving focus. Dr. Staple explains that her specific line of work is treating patients who have delusions of grandeur, believing they possess superhuman abilities. Dr. Staple convincingly casts shadows of doubt over Kevin, Elijah, and David’s self-assessed powers, and much of the middle act is afforded to discussions about whether people such as them actually exist, or if they’re simply reacting to trauma by seeing themselves as something unique. Riffing off the main theme from Split, the notion that going through something horrible creates a stronger version of yourself, the men look inward and are shaken by the possibility this might all be in their heads. This back and forth works well because Dr. Staple provides facts that call what we’ve seen in the past into question, the “what if” nature of the argument grows heavier on the characters and holds real weight as opposed to a rhetorical question.
During these intense sessions, the most questionable decisions of camera work come into play. Close-ups are almost inescapable and too consistent, instead of tactfully allowing us to feel the restriction of the bland white walls and cells, they become repetitive. Paulson receives the most of this camera set-up and has many conversions shot the same way as the center framed close up of her in the trailer, which looked great before, but is used in excess. Thankfully she keeps it interesting, with wide-eyed debate and small quivers in her facial expressions. Furthermore, the acting, in general, is strong – but McAvoy seems to be what most people came for, people in my screening reacted audibly to a variety of scenes where he rotates through Kevin’s numerous identities. He’s believable in every one of them – scary even – maybe even more impressive than he was in Split. Unfortunately, Glass often comes to an abrupt stop to showcase his multiple personalities, and the disruptions only felt necessary half the time. The great news is that McAvoy is visceral in his role (especially as the frightening and constantly flexing Beast identity) as this stops the showing off from being without reward.
The Beast was used sparingly in Split, reserved for the peaks of the film – which made the character frightening, but in Glass, he is used to full effect, making for better action scenes. With both David and The Beast in the same space, action scenes between the two were an awaited treat. The battles are humble, after all, this isn’t a spandex affair. Glass has a certain charm that comes about from not having the glam of a large Hollywood budget. The fight choreography, although nothing to write home about, is fairly tense and purposeful. The Beast scaling walls, dropping down menacingly from ceilings, and charging over the grass at David pulls a lot of the weight, and just looks downright cool. CGI is used sparingly and because of the inability to have boatloads of it, the team had to get creative. There are too many POV shots in the scuffles, and it lacks the overall entertainment value of bigger scale films, but the punches thrown are personal.
Comic book lore and references are laid on thick, and with it come ideological battlefields laden with metaphors. All in all, Glass isn’t so much about good guy vs bad guy as it is about convincing the world these good and bad guys actually exist, despite people trying to push them into the shadows. The problem with this is that the characters are painted with one brush. Shyamalan is in no way saying that Mr. Glass, a mass murderer, is the same as justice-seeking David, or even the tragic Kevin, but the film ends on a note of solidarity for these individuals and doesn’t quite acknowledge the minutia of these people having differences within their sub-category. This, of course, is covered in Unbreakable, with David and Elijah being direct opposites of each other in everything from mentality to physical structure. Yet, in Glass Elijah is seen doing horrible things – but still has some sort of “it’s us against the world” thing going with the other characters. This was not a particularly good thing for David as a character, as he obviously wanted no part of being affiliated with either Kevin or Elijah, he was just caught in the crossfire and deserving of more attention.
Glass has a voice, and it’s clear whom that voice belongs to, but it doesn’t leave room for much else. And while seeing the supporting characters (satisfyingly played by the same actors from the previous films) crossover was rewarding, the climax of the film isn’t quite right, despite having resonating emotional factors. The ending in true Shyamalan fashion has a bunch of twists thrown in at the end, that range from laughable to fun. Overall there is enough heart and interesting core ideas to keep your attention but ultimately a lack of complete character coverage might put a damper on things for some. Is the ticket worth it to see Bruce Willis in that raincoat again? Absolutely.