REVIEW – ‘Glass’

Two years ago, a sequel came along few could have known actually existed as a sequel until the film’s surprise final moments. Sorry to spoil this for you, but with one brief climatic scene, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan proved he could still deliver a killer twist to stun an audience. By unexpectedly connecting his 2017 film Split with that of his criminally underrated 2000 picture Unbreakable, he created a new cinematic universe no one ever really expected, and, thus, laid the foundation for a third film where it all comes together.

A psychological horror/thriller about a maniacal serial killer who suffers from dissociative identity disorder resulting in 23 distinct personalities, Split seemed to share little with Shyamalan’s Unbreakable until the moment we see its lead character pop up unexpectedly in the last few frames. As final surprises go, it’s up there with the best. With Glass, Shyamalan aims to complete the trilogy he inadvertently started 19 years ago and continue his career resurrection after a string of flops and disappointments. Ambitious is an understatement for this project.

Unfortunately, that hype may prove to be the film’s downfall. Without the element of surprise comes a crippling sense of expectation from audiences, meaning Glass will likely be one of the most divisive films of the season. For better or worse, Shyamalan throws everything he’s got at this film, taking lofty risks at every turn. It’s an admirable effort, but the final result is a disjointed film that suffers from endless and exhausting bouts of exposition and hokey dialogue that lead to a conclusion that’s downright absurd and disappointing.

It must be pointed out if you haven’t seen Split or UnbreakableGlass is unlikely to make a lick of sense to you. Many will dismiss this as being necessary for a franchise, but, in this film critic’s opinion, the best sagas are still able to have each individual chapter stand on its own, regardless of an audience having prior knowledge of what’s come before. That ain’t the case here. Shyamalan expects you to be up to date, so consider yourself warned if you’re coming into this entirely cold or haven’t watched Unbreakable since the dawn of the millennium.

Glass picks up shortly after the events of its predecessor, with Kevin Wendell Crumb (a brilliant James McAvoy) still on the loose and kidnapping hapless young girls to offer up to one of his personalities known as “The Beast.” After sole Split survivor Casey Cook (Anya Taylor-Joy) informed the world of her captor’s apparent superpowers, Kevin has been attracting plenty of media attention, who have dubiously dubbed him “The Horde.” This also piques the interest of vigilante crimefighter David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who has been evading police capture for years while performing his acts of selfless (albeit illegal) heroism.

Still wearing his infamous raincoat to hide his identity and protect him from his weakness to water, David has become somewhat of a viral internet sensation, with many attempting to ascertain the identity of the mysterious figure known online as “The Overseer.” Despite the reservations from his trusty sidekick son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), David makes a daring move to apprehend Kevin, leading to both being arrested by the police and hauled off to the same psychiatric hospital where Elijah Price aka Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) has been committed and sedated for the last 19 years, after his unspeakable crimes of terrorism were uncovered by David.

The three “gifted” patients are placed under the care of Dr. Ellie Staple (a horribly underused but typically wonderful Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who specialises in the study of individuals with delusions of grandeur aka the belief they possess superhuman powers. Despite evidence to the contrary, Dr. Staple firmly theorises their supposed superhero (or super-villain) qualities can all be explained rationally and the three men are not quite the extraordinary marvels they believe they are. Working with Joseph, Casey, and Elijah’s elderly and long-suffering mother (Charlayne Woodard), Dr. Staple is determined to prove superheroes are nothing but comic book fantasy.

To say much more from here would enter into spoiler territory, but I’m sure it will come as no surprise to hear the remainder of the film is filled with a good dozen twists, turns, and revelations, as Shyamalan desperately attempts to interconnect three films vastly different in tone, content, and direction. And therein lies the problem. Glass ultimately becomes a film with too many ideas and not enough screentime to properly execute any of them. Throwing together characters from different films doesn’t work if there isn’t a clear and concise overarching vision (just ask Justice League), and it’s hard to know just what exactly Shyamalan is trying to convey here. Sure, he’s connecting plenty of dots, but he’s constantly adding more narrative threads that mostly go unresolved.

With its constant mystery surrounding whether these beings really are superhuman or just deluded nutjobs, it becomes rather tedious waiting for the apparently explosive answer that’s been hand fed to us for two entire films. When Unbreakable was released in 2000, comic books and superheroes were still obscure nerd-exclusive properties, making his film that much more revolutionary. But the world has changed since then, and Shyamalan doesn’t seem to know it. We no longer need Mr. Glass explaining to us ad nauseam about the fundamentals of superhero lore, yet we’re given them again anyway.

The screenplay is the fatal flaw of Glass, with a script overloaded with longwinded segments of exposition-loaded dialogue that drag the film down and bring the action grinding to a screeching halt. With a particular focus on the writer/director’s obvious fascination with comic books and why they’re so achingly important to the world (for the record, I completely concur), the entire exercise makes a case for taking superheroes seriously to an audience that likely already is. The problem is, in the midst of his self-aggrandising, Shaymalan has seemingly forgotten entirely about his characters, who each vanish for inexplicable stretches of time throughout the film.

When the focus is on the humans of our film, there’s no real semblance of character development for any of them (namely because the three leads are already fully-formed entities), particularly Dr. Staple, whose only real purpose is to explain the events of what’s transpiring in front of our eyes, just in case we’re not paying attention. David, Kevin, and Elijah are left to essentially remain the same characters they each were in their preceding chapters until the convoluted and messy conclusion where Shyamalan appears to remember he needs to wrap this all up somehow. It’s here all our main players each have cataclysmic wake-up calls to the notion of character growth, but the whole thing arrives far too late and feels unearned and lazy.

The saving grace of Glass is McAvoy, who, once again, has an absolute ball showcasing the distinguished and wildly different personalities hiding within Kevin. Without the need for introductions (which will be horribly incoherent for those who haven’t seen Split), he’s allowed to run wild, especially in moments where he switches between personalities in the blink of an eye. His accent work is sublime and his entire personification of each personality is a joy to watch. McAvoy’s breathtaking performance is worth the price of admission alone, even if you’ll find yourself conflicted over feeling strange empathy for someone responsible for such ghastly behaviour.

Jackson spends a large portion of the film in a catatonic mute state, robbing him of the bombastic performance he gave in Unbreakable. When he does finally awaken, the result is deliciously wondrous, but it arrives beyond the point you’ve likely stopped caring about this film. That isn’t helped by Willis’ flat performance, who seems barely interested in appearing in a sequel he never really signed up for. Despite being given more backstory than any other character, Willis never takes this opportunity to allow David to be affected by the events we hear he’s been through. Paulson is given the thankless task of keeping the narrative moving, but without any shred of motivation to understand what’s really driving Dr. Staple before a nauseating final twist that makes very little sense.

With an ambitious and admirable scope, Glass is a film that shoots for the moon but gets lost with too many detours on its journey, leaving us with a jumbled mess of a film. It’s fractured (or should that be shattered?) in so many disjointed pieces that simply don’t fit together, you can’t help but feel entirely frustrated by what you’ve just witnessed. There’s a lot going on in this film, and very little of it works effectively. It’s the cinematic equivalent of blindly throwing random ingredients into a blender and hoping they somehow mesh together. That doesn’t work in the kitchen and it definitely doesn’t work in the cinema.

Distributor: Buena Vista International
Cast: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producers: Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan, M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis
Music: West Dylan Thordson

Editor:  Luke Ciarrocchi, Blu Murray
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: 17th January 2019 (Australia)
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