Unbreakable (2000) has been one of my favorite comic book-inspired movies for a long time. When Split (2016) ended and the connection to that longtime favorite film was made, I was pleasantly surprised. It is safe to assume that Glass (2018) was one of my most anticipated of this year, and M. Night Shyamalan didn’t make me wait too long to find out if it lived up to my expectations.
Glass didn’t shatter my expectations, but I enjoyed it more than most
Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) has gathered Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), David Dunn (Bruce Willis), and Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) – plus his various personalities – into a mental institution. She believes they all suffer from a delusion of grandeur that makes them believe they’re superheroes. Dr. Staple sets out to prove that all of the impressive things the three believe they have done are all explainable by science and logic, and that the disorder makes them elevate themselves.
Glass definitely has an audience, and I am among its people. Unfortunately, the film is not without some weaknesses. The story is heavy on the expositional dialogue at times, but it always felt mostly organic in its presentation. The action set pieces aren’t going to knock your socks off, but they are in the same style and tone as the previous two films. Some of the directions the story goes can certainly rub people the wrong way, whether it’s how a character is portrayed, the overall narrative beats, or the moments that feel more comic book than others might seem cheesy against the grounded backdrop. Additionally, there are a few scenes that could easily have been left out to tighten up the story. However, I found a whole lot to take away from this film that made the overall experience one that I believe I’ll want to sit through a few more times.
McAvoy’s performance in Split was impressive, and I think it’s even more so here. While the personalities that show up aren’t all developed compared to the core ones introduced in the origin film, Kevin’s personalities – now mostly calling themselves “the Horde” – come more frequently this time around. This requires McAvoy to switch his performance instantly – in the same frame, in many cases – and he executes it perfectly. There is even a slightly cliché moment that Shyamalan utilizes to showcase just how impressive McAvoy’s transformation truly is.
The weak link in the cast is Bruce Willis, which has become the aging actor’s current trademark. However, his character was always fairly stoic, and Shyamalan manages to not allow his indifference to affect the movie too much. Jackson doesn’t get as much time as I had anticipated, but he makes strong use of what he gets. His mannerisms really work here, and his charisma shines once he gets to start showing off that epic brain of Mr. Glass’s.
Slight surprises in their significance were Anya Taylor-Joy and Spencer Treat Clark. Taylor-Joy was the lead character in Split, and Clark is David Dunn’s son who initially pushed his dad into believing he was more than most. While they were both in the trailers, I didn’t realize how their characters would fit into the bigger story. They both have compelling parts that mostly worked for me. Still, even if you disagree with the direction Shyamalan takes the characters, it’s hard to deny the quality of both performers with Taylor-Joy being a more seasoned performer from my perspective.
Paulson continues to impress, though. She has to be one of the most underappreciated actresses working today. Clearly, she gets praise from many sources, but she rarely gets to lead a film. While it could absolutely be argued she is the lead here, it is something that just isn’t happening often enough. Paulson dominates the roles she is given, and does exactly what is called upon her to do. She elevates the material, even when Dr. Staple is forced to drone on to make sure everyone is following the complicated concepts Shyamalan has written, Paulson is able to do it in a way that is compelling. She gives yet another terrific performance, and makes this movie something special.
Shyamalan’s career has been one I’ve followed since the beginning. He may have been one of the first directors I was really aware of, as I saw most of his early films on opening weekend in the theater. He started on such a high with the Sixth Sense (1999), and elevated it with Unbreakable. The decline would begin slowly with Signs (2002) and The Village (2004), then it picked up speed with Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008), and finally, imploded after The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013). Shyamalan famously included in his senior high school yearbook a phony Times Magazine cover of himself with a headline that read “Best Director: NYU grad takes Hollywood by storm”. He called his shot and knocked it out of the park early, but he quickly fell from grace as his films got criticized more and more. It seems Glass may be where Shyamalan is attempting to deal with his career, with hopes of it both finally bringing him back to the glory days and also getting through what it must feel like to be so loved and suddenly so reviled. The themes in Glass were where I found myself most intrigued – and while the metaphors may be obvious to some – it has left me thinking about so much of what happens since it ended.
Glass is entertaining, and features some solid performances from most of its cast. McAvoy and Paulson are my stand-outs, and only Willis didn’t bring his A-game. I think Unbreakable and Split are better overall, and I think Glass does a solid job of concluding the stories started there while delivering a solid entry into its director’s debatable filmography. Glass earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.