glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | feb. 2019
M. Night Shyamalan returns with what I can fairly describe as his first eagerly awaited film in quite some time. In his golden age he had some pretty decent films that were well received, “The Sixth Sense," “Unbreakable" and then with a downturn it all went sour with stinker after stinker being broken up by the “so bad it's entertaining" apocalypse movie “The Happening," a film that spawned a thousand memes. Suffice to say Shyamalan's career has lurched from one disaster to another, but something happened that caught me by surprise. “Split," clearly a Shyamalan film in look and feel, managed to be pretty decent, even rather good especially if you're a fan of the best of Shyamalan. I actually enjoyed one of his movies again with itsoff the wall performance, or rather performances, from James McAvoy. It was often unnerving, consistently tense and sometimes a bit silly, but it was entertaining and came with a twist that was the first one to actually work in a Shyamalan film for a long time – It was set in the world of “Unbreakable."
Setting up an actual sequel, rather than the “same universe" story “Split" is, “Glass" was announced and given the goodwill generated by “Split," I have to say I've been eager to catch this one. So, how'd this work out?
Well, to be generous it's a mixed bag. To be less generous, it's a bit of a mess. Picking up from a short time after the events of “Split," and, of course, quite a few years after “Unbreakable," “Glass" finds David Dunn (Willis) having fully embraced his “superhero" identity. After accidentally tracking down the still loose “Horde" (McAvoy) he rushes to save his soon to be victims and is captured during the battle. Banged up in a psychiatric hospital along with the Horde and Elijah Price (Jackson), his nemesis from “Unbreakable," the trio is pressured to accept that they are simply delusional and not the gifted and evolved superhumans they believe they are.
Where to begin? “Glass" has a lot of interesting ideas that come from the first two films in what's now apparently known as the “Eastrail 177 Trilogy." Like those films, it focuses much more on the characters' struggles with what they are than it does any showy Avengers kind of action. When there is action, it tends to be played on the edge of possibility rather than, say, having laser beams shoot out of their eyes or the characters having the ability to lift a mountain. Grounded, in this case, is a subjective term but it's as good a description of how things are presented in comparison to the DCEU or MCU. The first thing that is considerably different here though is that there isn't the captive/victim/race against time that “Split" had and because of that the film feels far, far slower paced. McAvoy has to work his acting socks off here, it has to be said and even Bruce Willis finds it in himself to emote on occasions (man I miss Die Hard era Willis) while Samuel L. Jackson provides a very solid performance as Mr Glass, but the movie spends so much time ponderously reiterating point after point and even adding what felt like superfluous storylines that it ends up slowing down too much at points. It's this labored story and script that ultimately lets the films down – It's weighed down with explaining everything, paying far too much time studying the characters rather than letting them do stuff and show it. Of course it wouldn't be Shyamalan if there weren't a lot of ridiculous plot conveniences and hit or miss twists along the way, most of these I could forgive, Doctor Staple, however, is not one of those. If ever a central character felt like a purpose-made plot device then it's this one and is probably one of the film's biggest problems being as muddy in motivation and contrived in purpose as she is. That is second only to the far reduced tension in the film. Where “Split" had the ticking clock and lives on the line, “Glass" has a lot of talking between neutered “superheroes" and their shrink. Granted, that talking was often interesting or at least posed some questions, but it's not exactly tense for the most part and at just over two hours runtime, it really could have done with more tension.
That all said, I didn't hate the film. I do however think you need to have not just watched the first two films but liked them as well before you'll get anything out of this. Even then I had to give every ounce of charity I had to the film to get the most from it. As studies of the concept of superheroes go, “Glass" does have some interesting ideas and frankly, I think it does that better than the DCEU or MCU have managed to do so far, but the writing in this film too often flounders and becomes bogged down in its own self-importance. And then there's the ending. When you can immediately invalidate the conclusion with two words – Fake News – then you know there is a massive flaw in the writing.
“Glass" isn't much of a success. For many it'll be deeply unremarkable, for me, as someone who liked “Split" a lot, I have to confess a degree of disappointment but with the caveat that there is still some good stuff in there. If you loved the first two films then this will offer some furtherance of the story and characters but little more and I wonder if this could go on with any assurance that it'll be worthwhile. With rights having already been an issue with this film – some of the characters are owned by Disney – then a further sequel may run into additional problems over and above critical reception anyway. In short, “Glass" is a film that doesn't reach its potential but for fans of the last two, it may just offer enough to work for you, just.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.