Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Bruce Willis, Charlayne Woodard, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
As Marvel round off phase three of their decade-in-the-making cinematic universe, eighteen years from the initial installation, M. Night Shyamalan rounds off the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. Shyamalan introduced us to his brand of superhero flick at the turn of the century, when Robert Downey Jnr was just barely out of jail. In his world, the crime fighter David Dunn (Willis) didn’t have spandex, but a long anorak or a security coat. His arch-nemesis was not an enchanted glove wearing, planet destroying, alien – but comicbook nerd and wheelchair user Elijah Price, aka Mr Glass (Jackson).
Now, following his cameo at the end of Split, that saw Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy) and his multiple personalities become super-villain The Horde, Dunn returns in vigilante mode. Sadly, after tracking all 24 of Kevin’s personalities to an abandoned warehouse – where he’s holding more teens captive – the initially promising idea is ditched. The two of them are arrested and sent to a severely understaffed psychiatric clinic to be treated by Dr. Ellie Staple: a psychiatrist exploring delusions of superpowers. She believes they aren’t more than human – only fragile people dealing with difficult events in their past. I’ll give you one guess who the only other patient there is. The titular Mr Glass appears a changed man, sitting catatonically through prolonged meetings and staring into space. Surely he’s got something hidden up his hospital sleeve though? Given the arse-testing 2-hours plus running time, you’d bloody well hope so. Outside the walls, Dunn’s son Spencer (Clark), Horde survivor Casey (Taylor-Joy) and Elijah’s mum (Woodard) spare no time achieving fairly little – except finding reasons to visit for the third act.
Speaking of time, it’s not been nice to Shyamalan. Whilst Unbreakable’s sober deconstruction of the superhero myth was arguably years ahead of it, Glass is unarguably years behind. The commentary on superhero narratives as transparent as its namesake, and disappointingly goes no further than that which has been filling puff pieces for over a decade. Think Deadpool without the wit, charm or dick jokes. Such an emphasis on self-reflexvity wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the script weren’t so smug and self-confident, with Shyamalan seemingly fallen back into his cultural philosopher role from Lady in the Water. He doesn’t skimp on his philosophising either, slowing the midsection to snail pace in order to ponder the nature of trauma and what caped crusaders have come to symbolise. Unlike the Marvel films that he praises and scorns in equal measure, (along with referencing in a cringy visual pun), the grandiose posturing is not well integrated with the plot. Meaning that the very things he acknowledges people want to see are lost in a polemic that’s not only tedious, but badly out of date. In that respect, Glass is half full of itself.
It’s also half empty, with a second half bereft of action until an almost comically small scale fight. Whilst Unbreakable succeeded using its anti-climax to serve its characters, with Dunn having the police arrest his foe off-screen in an ironic juxtaposition to his grand schemes, Glass fails with an approach that’s both traditional and subversive. Following a Chekov’s weapon of mass destruction, the movie builds up to a third act spectacle where all subplots converge for a good old fashioned slobber knocker on a skyscraper roof. Take that Avengers! However, given it still goes down the fight route, it’s hard not to be underwhelmed when it takes the form of two men pushing each other around a huge car-park. t I could have forgiven this tepid finale had the rest of the running time given it a sense of urgency and personal stakes. But with the key emotional arcs revolving around our trio figuring out if they really have powers, a question already answered in both predecessors, it’s far too little far too late. Being a Shymalan flick, there’s a few twists before the credits, though they’re as brittle as the bones of the story. What’s worse is one almost completely undermines the core conflict. Truly, I struggle to think of another instance when such a great cast (and to be fair, all three are on form, especially McAvoy) went so wasted.
Given Glass came out in America a couple of weeks ago, it’s been hard to avoid the overwhelmingly negative response its received. However, what’s been interesting is seeing an apparent fondness among fans that’s mutually emerged. Personally I’m not sure how seriously to take this narrative. Nowadays, the bulk of online critics are reviewing on top of their day jobs vs doing it as their day job. Thus the distinction between the two has become superficial: most critics are just fans with too much time on their hands. Certainly at Horror Cult Films we’re not cinematic scholars, musing on the mise-en-scène and considering composition against specific traditions. Rather we decide if we like a film based on how it makes us think and/ or feel. In this case, I’m scoring one low because it betrays its own premise, is poorly written and, worst of all, is boring. The second star is because its well acted, and visually impressive. However, in terms of its storytelling, I can think of almost nothing it gets right. Marvel may not have a rival, but DC do.