Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Spencer Treat Clark
Reber’s Rating – B
It isn’t often that I see a movie where, as I begin to write the basic film information above, that I have to omit a key player featured in a major release. Granted, this is only the third week into 2019 and we’ve been given a film better suited for a summer release. After all, a filmmaker such as M. Night Shyamalan (in the midst of a quaint little resurgence) managing to cap an unexpected trilogy started with both Unbreakable and Split? Sure, I’m a huge admirer of both films, sign me up, shut up and take my money.
Oh, but then we have to include Sarah Paulson, an actress who with a meager whisper can derail any project of her involvement. Yes, I know that sentiment is downright harsh. I threw in the towel on American Horror Story a couple seasons back because of her woeful acting. As fired up as my prospects for the blockbuster Glass, Shyamalan’s latest of his self-financed films produced by venerable horror mogul Jason Blum, my gut instinct warned me that her character could derail this movie in a finger snap.
Thankfully, that’s not fully the case. Shyamalan manages to unite two of his most successful films, a project we didn’t need but got with glee anyway, an alternative viewpoint on the world of comic books and our beliefs in the inexplicable. James McAvoy steals all of the thunder from a haggard Bruce Willis and wily Samuel L. Jackson. Lamentably, like some of his previous films in his repertoire (like Lady In The Water and The Happening), Shyamalan does get a bit too crafty for his own good. Oh, he’s a wonderfully imaginative storyteller but tries to keep the veil over our eyes for too long and plan his unexpected last twist.
At least the trailers don’t ruin too much of the plot. We actually pick up mere weeks following the end of 2016’s Split, with Kevin Wendell Crumb still on the loose in greater Philadelphia and David Dunn hot on his trail. Turns out Dunn’s made a modest living out of, who guessed it, selling home security to the general public. (What better way for he and son Joseph to track the scum of the streets?) Of course, as any good comic book goes, hero tracks down villain and saves the day. In this case though, and as the marketing drives the point home, both men are apprehended by the good Doctor Ellie Staple, who somehow knows their weaknesses. Thus lies the crux of our movie, Doctor Staple attempting to convince our main characters (and the viewers) that no one has super powers. There’s no heroes. No villains. Just psychiatric patients with no future.
The story by Shyamalan is convincing enough. There’s no secrets to be had here, no major twist we should be expecting. We’ve spent ten years getting to know the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where heroes can be larger-than-life or as plain as you and I, vigilantes with an edge and tact. Is David Dunn really capable of super-human strength? Is water truly his greatest weakness? And The Horde, behind the various personalities lies a troubled man who created these personas due to a troubled childhood. Staple’s character serves as the devil’s advocate in a world where we see a headline or a video in social media, our curiosity questioning whether what we’ve witnessed is legitimate or erroneous. Today’s world has a way to make us inquire if our minds are seeing something that can’t be true. And, in a way, are the three characters we’ve come to know in both Unbreakable and Split demented?
We already know that Elijah Price is deranged. Once again, Samuel L. Jackson is back to showing audiences that he portray a compelling and vile villain. Though, whereas in 2002’s Unbreakable we were learning more about his machinations, now we see just how loathsome Mister Glass is at his core. Jackson takes the less-is-more approach, not needing to chew his lines like a bad B-movie but slowly and manically twists his words like a con man, luring other characters into his gambit of cat-and-mouse escapades. Even though Glass is very much about the adroit yet frail heel, McAvoy once again owns every frame he’s afforded much like he did in Split. To see McAvoy split into various characters without even a break in the scene is absolutely brilliant and fascinating to behold. As ghastly as The Beast is when unleashed against faceless prey, the other personalities that inhabit Crumb’s mind are layered and meticulously devised, each a part of The Horde that Crumb has created to stay out of the light. Split was his time to shine and, hell, Glass is a continuation of that brilliance.
Really though, Glass is an industry first to have two major studios join forces to make a movie possible. Universal owns the rights to Split; Touchstone, a division of Disney, owns Unbreakable. Without Touchstone’s approval to include David Dunn, this movie wouldn’t be possible at all. Bruce Willis has been known to phone in a role here and there, more so in the present than in the past. (I maintain my love for 2018’s Death Wish though, Willis is clearly having fun.) As much a major part that Willis’ Dunn has to drive the story forward, his do-gooder the prevailing voice in the are-heroes-real-or-not debate, it’s the son that outshines the father. Returning as Joseph Dunn is Spencer Treat Clark, who serves as us the viewer more than just a side character. The crux of Glass is the notion of do we believe what we see with our own eyes. Joseph himself does doubt some of the wonders his father has performed. Yet, and especially true of modern society, Joseph does due diligence to do his homework and research to find out the truth. Can our own two eyes tell us the whole story or just a half of the narrative?
Then we come back to the good doctor herself, Ellie Staple. She’s certainly no staple of Glass, that’s for sure. Again, fully aware of my brutal honesty prior, but Sarah Paulson is horribly miscast as the naysaying psychologist. She’s doe-eyed whenever the camera is fixated upon her gaze as she speaks to Dunn, Crumb, and Price. Is she crying or just opining about her skepticism in super heroes and villains? Comics books are fantasy, they’re fiction, they’re not real. We get it, Sarah, you think that comic books are phooey, okay okay. Moreover, while some actors and actresses can overact, Paulson comes across as dull and disinterested in her works. Every character she’s portrayed recently just feels the same, albeit with different backstories. The air grew stale with each scene Paulson has a presence, our three main characters’ pluck eroded by her lack of enthusiasm.
Worse, Shyamalan nearly derails his own movie before the credits begin to roll. Shyamalan is a better fabulist than others, his pride in twists his pride and joy. Sure, he lost his way about a decade ago but has turned his luck around. No one in a theater should be able to pick out what is going on from the get-go. Suspicions shouldn’t lead to conclusions within the first act of any movie. More importantly, what I thought was the actual twist nearly killed my appreciation of Glass. Hell, I’m sure I smacked the side of the reclining chair in anger. Shyamalan is clearly a lover of comic books in all their forms; we wouldn’t have this trilogy if not for that obvious factoid. To suck the air out of the room with one plot twist almost made me think of Uwe Boll for a hot minute.
Shyamalan salvages Glass though in the waning moments of the film, the City of Brotherly Love at full display. (Have to admit, I love knowing I can pick out all of these locales since I’m a frequent Philly visitor.) The characters we’ve followed for just about two hours make a reluctant agreement, not because of their entitlements and place in the world but because of their appreciation of the truth. What they – and we – see may not be too far off base. Maybe what we witness with our eyes should be believed. Maybe miracles can happen everyday. Shyamalan isn’t trying to make a different type of super hero tale, no sir. In fact, by rooting his plot in a more grounded world in which we exist, Shyamalan is able to craft a thrilling tale that thankfully redeems and rewards by the end. Glass caps a trilogy that defies us to question what we believe in the long run. Sometimes to believe we have to have faith. I have to hand it to M. Night Shyamalan. Despite some missteps, Glass marks the first film of 2019 worth seeing on the big screen.