Published on January 17th, 2019 | by Dan Nicholls1
Is the film, Glass, are we getting the amazing M. Night Shymalan or the horrible M. Night Shymalan? Well, the answer is, kinda both. Sigh.
Prefacing a new M. Night Shyamalan movie is a problematic task. Every new swing at the bat should be given a fair shot but it’s hard not to recognize that the writer-director’s name carries more dread than anticipation in 2019. Keeping an open mind while watching Glass is key but blocking out the poor expectations can be difficult. He’s spent a lot of time being a punchline in the 20 years since The Sixth Sense became a blockbuster and an instant classic.
We can all agree on that film’s greatness, right? It’s The Village in 2004 where he fell — no one’s perfect, to be fair — but he didn’t get back up again with The Lady in the Water two years later. Sadly, he seemed to stay down for the count with consistent flops The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013). A renewed spirit awoke when he took a breath and went back to his roots with the low-budget moderate hit The Visit (2015). But Split (2017) was a real spike in quality and box office revenue so now we’re left to wonder – will Glass be another bold step forward for the double Oscar-nominee or is it time to abandon hope again?
The answer is – kinda both.
The trailer unfortunately tells you more than it probably should but the main points are safe: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) from Unbreakable faces off with Kevin Crumb a.k.a. The Horde a.k.a. The Beast (James McAvoy) from Split while evil mastermind Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) lurks in the shadows pulling strings we can’t yet see. Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) somehow finds herself in a position to study all three in a psychiatric hospital in an attempt to convince the trio that their superpowers are nothing more than a brain disorder.
There are many gripes to be had with the film’s execution that would require going too deep into spoiler territory. Let it be said that regardless of which side of the fence you will fall on — and with a movie like Glass, divisions will be sharp — there are undeniable problems prevalent enough that any viewer will spot them from a mile away.
Glass is simply maddening if you think about it too hard. Like it or not, M. Night’s just gonna be M. Night forever and that’s nowhere more obvious than in his grating cameos and lame stabs at humor. His penchant to pile twists on twists on twists is a nasty habit that needs to be kicked as well. Here we get a surprise ending that will be controversial but will undeniably be a “wow” moment, but then it’s followed by a lame signature M. Night twist. Then another. Then, fuck it, here’s one more twist. It’s all unnecessary and sort of pisses you off when you should be processing what just happened in the story’s real ending.
The film’s middle will either bore or enthrall you depending on your openness to go along with the comic book-heavy material. Split operated as a singular thriller but Glass makes no bones about going full-on hardcore nerd. The structure, mythology, plot beats, and integral supporting players of the medium are all dissected and studied. This isn’t another entry in the nonstop Marvel/DC-style CGI-heavy flicks that flood theaters every other month; Glass is taking the comic book form and breaking it down in a much different manner.
James McAvoy is still a wonder and believably flips between multiple iterations of Kevin’s personalities, sometimes in a single take. It might be stunt acting but it’s a helluva feat to witness. Fans of Split will no doubt be thrilled that much of the film’s focus is spent on Kevin. Those of us who fell in love with Unbreakable on the spot in 2000 are going to be a little frustrated. There’s a lot of teasing, buildup, and too much exposition that gets in the way of the David/Elijah reunion that’s been nearly two decades in the making.
The man of the hour himself, Mr. Glass, is impossible to take your eyes off of. Samuel L. Jackson once again brings the entertainment factor and quality assurance up several notches with his presence in any capacity. Our hero David is stoic as always but sidelined as the protagonist we might expect. Willis doesn’t especially seem like he’s trying his hardest here but he’s less of a dynamic character than he is a plot device in what started out as his own story. Anya Taylor-Joy returns as The Beast’s only surviving victim and is fantastic in what’s perhaps the film’s most problematic role.
I’ll say that I’m both disappointed and elated with the final outcome but the specific things that bothered me, a major Unbreakable superfan, might not bother someone else. And the parts I loved (of which there are numerous) could likely fall flat with half the total audience. The very best and worst traits of M. Night Shyamalan’s inescapable instincts are on full display with Glass, buyer beware. Ultimately there’s enough pure entertainment value to recommend purchasing your own ticket to ride this crazy train if you’re willing to extend your faith just one last time.