M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Glass’ is one big letdown

The disconnect between comic book mythology and the real world has quite the addictive playground for filmmakers over the past 20 years to hang around. Tackling the dichotomy between make believe superhero magic and real consequences is an overcooked steak to many in the movie-loving crowd, but it’s all about having something to say and finding a way to make it count.

Back in 2000, M. Night Shyamalan bought the real-world reluctant superhero comic tale before anyone else could even get a bid in. Before Christopher Nolan’s masterful Batman work and the Marvel takeover, a Philadelphia native blew our minds with Unbreakable. He had something to say and knew how to present, combining the star power of Bruce Willis, the top flight acting of Samuel L. Jackson, and painting the picture like an indie drama instead of a CGI-soaked visual spectacle. It wasn’t just heroes, villains, and innocents. It was a true battle over identity, purpose, and the effect one has when they wield that power.

After 2016’s Split was revealed to be a sequel to Unbreakable, Shyamalan quickly revealed that a third film would complete the story. Mouths were officially watered, interest boomed, and the countdown commenced. 19 years later, Glass has arrived, and I can tell you this: I was left wanting more.

Is Glass a bad film? No. Far from it.

Is it a great film? No. Far from it.

Shyamalan’s finale lies somewhere in between, and before we get to the bad stuff, let’s set the record straight. This is an ambitious attempt at wrapping an epic story up. I’ll hand it to the filmmaker for swinging for the fences and never taking a half-measure with people’s time and money at stake. Love or hate the guy, he makes films that are personal to him, and never simply cashes a paycheck so he can find work. It doesn’t take more than 15 minutes of Glass to notice that he is trying to get at something in his head, even if the message he eventually does present is flawed, underwhelming, and misguided. A dedicated cast pushes the needle here considerably.

James McAvoy once again turns in brilliant work as The Horde, aka the Beast, aka Hedwig, and several other personalities. Glass reveals more of the 24 different looks for the British actor to play with, and he leans into the role with gusto. Whenever the film starts to flail and move at a snail’s pace, McAvoy seems to come in and find a new way to blow your mind. He was Oscar worthy in Split, and he’s exceptional here as a man at war with several versions of himself.

While he isn’t given a ton to do here emotionally, it’s nice to see Willis revisit one of his best roles. He’s been stuck in action hero robot mode for a long time, so David Dunn saves him in a way from direct-to-DVD Walmart bin wasteland—at least for one movie. He finds a way to rekindle the soulful touch in Dunn’s mystique. A seemingly ordinary man with incredible ability trying to do the right thing is never going to be uninteresting to watch.

Jackson slips back into Elijah Price’s skin with ease. Confined to a wheelchair for the entire movie and devoid of dialogue for half the film, the veteran actor gets a kick out of playing the mastermind in this story. Someone who always seems to be a couple steps ahead of his rivals and nemesis. While fans know him as the one-eyed man who finds and utilizes superheroes in Marvel’s world, he gets to tap into the superhero-locating madman here, and the opportunity seems to be relished.

Spencer Treat Clark, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Charlayne Woodard return as David’s son, the Beast’s escaped teenager, and Elijah’s mother, respectively. All do fine if forgettable work.

Sarah Paulson puts in solid if unlikable work as Dr. Ellie Staple, a shrink spinning a yarn to these three special beings about their powers being a ruse, and how they are mistaken normal people seeking redemption in a fairy tale. The majority of the film takes place at a psychiatric center with Paulson’s Doc tossing theories, history, and disbelief at our three main characters-and it gets tiring after a while. I found myself waiting for the big battle to take place.

When it does arrive, the showdown is both entertaining and exhausting. The climax is extremely drawn out, too long, and wears on your senses. The first 100 minutes lay down a healthy inkling for what will occur, so all I wanted was a finale worth waiting for. In the end, when the infamous M. Night twist is laid down and the bodies fall, I was disappointed. Left wanting more, I found the ending to Glass to be the real difference between the film being an admirable attempt at something special and a truly great film.

The writer/director has a lot of things going on during the final 30 minutes of this movie, and too many of them don’t work or land right. Imagine a student standing up at a debate shouting about something that either doesn’t make sense or people have already heard before. When you take into account the expectations that accompany a film like Glass, you must deliver something that’s fresh and bold. Don’t serve me a drink that someone else took a sip of and passed around the room. After the groundbreaking Unbreakable and the kinetically-charged Split, Glass needed to be something than what I got at the screening. I wouldn’t call it a complete letdown, but a moderate level of discouragement.

Here’s the thing. I was very upset with the lame death of a key character. The Paulson character was a feeble construct that took up too much of the story and running time. This movie had footnotes attached, meaning characters had to stop, look towards the audience, and outright explain twists and plot points during the end of the film, as if we were lesser-minded moviegoers incapable of understanding a tale about comic book characters. A few parts of this film discouraged me from loving this movie.

Shyamalan’s ambition here was debilitated by an inability to find a precise end to his big trilogy. A weak ending unfortunately left the promising idea of a sequel to languish on the mind as the credits rolled. He threw a bunch of stuff at a wall, hoping for some of it to stick, and most of it didn’t.

While I admired the attempt to go for something big, I was left wanting more. If you are going to make this movie and bring the characters back, it had to be great. Anything less would be a disappointment, and that’s what I got with Glass.

It wasn’t a bad film, but it was nowhere near great.

Don’t try so hard next time, Shyamalan–or just leave it alone.

 

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