In Glass, the paths of David Dunn, Kevin Wendell Crumb, and Elijah Price cross when Dr. Ellie Staple holds them against their will in a restricted psychiatric facility.
An antithesis on superhero tropes and a cry-for-help voice from an ambitious artist.
Glass is the third and final chapter to a superhero trilogy nobody really knew could be possible till Split dropped by to pull the rugs off its viewers’ feet. Then again, it’s not surprising—its creator, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, who set the wheels in motion with Unbreakable, is known for pulling a narrative Houdini in a way only he ever could. His latest brings David Dunn (Bruce Willis; Death Wish, 2018), Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson; Kong: Skull Island, 2017), and Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy; Atomic Blonde, 2017) for what the audience will have come to expect to be a showdown of sorts. Of course, there’s more to it—Dunn, Pierce, and Crumb are locked up in a psychiatric facility, being told to believe they’re not superhuman, merely delusional.
The lines between good and evil are blurred, and you’re left wondering what the f@#k just happened.
At the heart of this conflict stands Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson; Blue Jay), a psychiatrist who’s making every attempt to convince the trio their powers can be “explained away.” It’s at this point you realize just how much the presence of Mr. Glass matters in this movie. The cards are out, and the antagonist just amped up the stakes—or so you think. Like with most twisty Shyamalan films, describing just about anything more would give everything away. What can be safely said, however, is this: when the twist drops—and how—you’ll realize this was never supposed to be a construction of a traditional superhero trilogy in the first place. And the biggest indicator of this is when Glass smugly states to one of Crumb’s personas, “This is the real world—not a cartoon—and yet some of us don’t die from bullets.”
Aside from being a thoughtful exploration of superhuman abilities in the real world (a la Watchmen and Chronicle), the film also ends up being an ingenious deconstruction of superheroes in movies and comic books. The narrative wants you to lean in real hard to the escapist buildup until the metaphorical glass finally shatters and the reality of Your Friendly Neighborhood Morality Tale hits—and boy, does it sting. The lines between good and evil are blurred, and you’re left wondering what the f@#k just happened. It may (or may not) then dawn on the viewer that this was not the “final standoff” film that we’ve come to expect from movies headlined by characters with superpowers.
(L-R) James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy star in M. Night Shyamalan's Glass, a Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release.
If the meta-commentary were the film’s only strength, however, Glass wouldn’t have been much more than a hollow parody—and it’s not like we don’t have a whole bunch of those in film and television. No; what Shyamalan does here is impressively multi-faceted, delving into both the power of love and empathy, the potential of human growth, and the hunger of the Machiavellian 1% to control the rest of the world. (Interestingly, the only other movie to most recently have explored the lattermost is Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that’s as much a superhero standoff as it is a truthfully bitter sociopolitical allegory on how easy it is to manipulate the public narrative. We all know how that was received).
Glass is, quite easily, an incredibly well-placed commentary on how predictable the plethora of superhero films are today.
Because a lot of Shyamalan’s narratives walk a fine line between grounded realism and gaudy theatrics, they’re usually in need of powerhouse performances, and the actors in Glass seem glad to share that burden. While McAvoy, Willis, and Jackson are all spectacular in their own right, it is the supporting cast that’s bound to blow you away. Spencer Treat Clark (who reprises the role of David’s son from Unbreakable almost twenty years after he was first seen with Willis) is excellent and displays a range that’s both versatile and emotionally coherent to his character. Anya Taylor-Joy, who’s back as Casey Cooke after Split, may not be the lead anymore, but her tour-de-force performance feels substantial enough to stay with you long after the movie has ended. A vital scene midway into the film’s third act has her at her best, and what she feels has the power to make any viewer empathize.
Then again, it all depends on where you stand on the films. Whether or not the plot progression or the complete-180 in the film’s final moments work for you is subjective, but you’d be hard-pressed to disagree with the fact that the director’s ambition and never-say-die adaptability is commendable. Glass is, quite easily, an incredibly well-placed commentary on how predictable the plethora of superhero films are today. It’s an artist’s desperate cry to their audience to break away from the complacency of the tried-and-tested. If nothing else, Glass goes at great lengths to tell the audience that films like Kick-Ass, Hellboy, and Super need not be one-off diamonds in the rough. Sure, the commentary isn’t universally accepted, but if it were, the film wouldn’t be as successful in its own right as it is now.
Art and our response to it, as they say, is subjective, but it’s hard to deny the satisfaction of witnessing a studio-backed (but not really; Shyamalan financed the film himself) original idea on the big screen either way. To the writer of this review, Glass is a brilliant, and it may not be for you, but go watch it anyway. It takes nerves of steel to make a film as polarizing as Glass is in today’s timeline when it comes to the creation of superhuman lore in pop-culture.