“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—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.
Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson; “Blue Jay”), a psychiatrist aggressively attempting to convince the trio their powers can be “explained away,” is the heart of this conflict. 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 conventional superhero trilogy in the first place. And the most significant 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 the buildup to keep viewers on their toes and expect a bombastic final-boss third act. Of course, in true Shyamalan fashion, the metaphorical glass finally shatters. 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.
If the meta-commentary were the film’s only strength, “Glass” wouldn’t have been much more than a hollow parody—and it’s not like we don’t have a bunch of those in film and television. What Shyamalan does here is impressively multi-faceted, exploring 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 that explores similar themes is Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and we all know how that was received).
Because many of Shyamalan’s narratives walk a fine line between grounded realism and gaudy theatrics, they usually need 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 reprises the role of David’s son from “Unbreakable” almost twenty years after he was first seen with Willis. He’s excellent and displays a range that’s both versatile and emotionally coherent to his character. Anya Taylor Johnson, who’s back as Casey Cooke after Split, may not be the lead anymore. Still, 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 how you respond to 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 not to respect the director’s ambition and never-say-die determination. “Glass” is an excellent commentary on the predictability of superhero films 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, the movie goes to 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. Though if it were, the film wouldn’t be as successful in its own right as it is now.
Art and our response to it are subjective. Still, there’s an undeniable satisfaction in witnessing an original idea on the big screen. To the writer of this review, “Glass” is 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” in today’s timeline when it comes to creating superhuman lore in pop culture.