4 Things You Should Know about M. Night Shyamalan's Glass
- Shawn McEvoy Director of Editorial
- 2019 18 Jan
Why only four points instead of five this week? Because the first point - and THE main thing you really need to recognize - is one you surely already know if you're reading about and considering seeing Glass - it's a merged continuation of two different stories from two different M. Night Shyamalan films set and made over 15 years apart, Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2017).
The director, who gained fame for his twist endings before falling on hard reviews, earned back a lot of cred with Split, which purported to be a fairly interesting character study of a kidnapper with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) hosting a couple dozen personalities within his frame. But right at the very end (MAJOR SPOILER on the very slim chance you're reading this review but know nothing about the films that preceded it) we find out Split takes place in the same universe as Unbreakable, whose hero David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is still very much at large.
So leaving aside the fact that you'll be seeing through Glass darkly if you've watched neither Unbreakable nor Split, here's what else you need to know...
1. It's Not an Especially Excellent Film. But it Is a Pretty Interesting One.
Glass wasn't dumped in January like some movies of yesteryear because of failed Oscar hopes or poor craftsmanship. This was a targeted release by Universal to bring in audience during a weak movie time, and it's likely to work. There's a lot of buzz out there, the movie is projected to top the box office its first week, and your teens are probably asking to see it.
The teen heroine of Split, the events of which only happened 3-4 weeks prior, is back. Casey Cooke (does her alliterative name hide super skills?) has landed her abusive uncle in jail and is living more confidently. She is even able to caringly touch and forgive the man who kidnapped her, Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), seeing through "The Horde" side of his personalities to the wounded, abused, kindred spirit underneath. The Horde and Dunn, whom some tabloids have named The Overseer, have both landed in a mental hospital after a stalemate in which Dunn rescues four kidnapped cheerleaders from The Horde. Already in heavily-sedated residence? Criminal mastermind Elijah Price/Mr. Glass.
Most of the movie from there is taken over by a very talky, rather unpleasant doctor named Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). It manages to hold interest with some familiar comic book theory and throwbacks to the earlier films, even though things certainly begin to unravel in the third act. It's not likely Glass ends up being the movie you imagined it would before going, or even halfway through. But it should get you talking in ways Marvel and DC movies don't manage. My 13-year-old daughter actually found it so fascinating she said it might be her favorite film.
2. There Is a Twist.
As you might expect from Shyamalan, there's a pretty big twist, but it's not a mind-blowing, perception-altering one. There's also a decently satisfying reveal about a minor hint dropped regarding Kevin's dad during Split which turns out to be cool (because we'd theorized it and it turned out to be true). These tricks make the ride rather fun, for a while. But I wish we could talk here about how things ultimately go down at Ravenhill Memorial Psychiatric, because I sure didn't buy a ticket to see that. In addition to the aforementioned Ms. Cooke in the corner of Mr. Crumb, the mother of evil genius Elijah is also on hand as a witness, as is Joseph (a very watchable Spencer Treat Clark), the hero-worshipping son of David Dunn. Why does every potential super-being in Glass have a sidekick, and why do they all happen to show up at the same time to see everything go down? Well, the plot kind of needs them to in order to get to the place it was really going all along...
3. There's Some Depth Here if You're Willing to Dig for It.
Glass "was an origin story, all along," says one major character who is supposed to be shattering our mindset that we were leading up to an expected and choreographed comic book Showdown instead. Indeed, Glass keeps self-referencing so many comic cliches ("The Turn!" The "Limited Edition!" "Enemies Become Friends!") that you either laugh or accept that it's trying but not quite succeeding at making a point about modern superhero overload.
But look past the shtick into what the trilogy (if we can call it that) has been saying all along regarding human potential, about doubting the miraculous or normalizing the exceptional. These movies preach that our greatest purposes and skills are reached through brokenness-plus-belief, brought to the masses. We would refer to this process as "Faith." No, it wouldn't be at all accurate to call Glass a faith-based film, but as compared to where most movies go regarding human potential and evolution, this one spreads an interesting gospel (cf. final scene) that we get where we're going by a shared faith which not everyone wants shared. Almost as interesting is the corollary point that we don't get there by defining who is a good guy and who is a bad guy morally.
4. It's Surprisingly Adept at Holding Steady to the PG-13 Rating (much like Split, which really surprised me).
I counted a single, unfortunate GD, with a few uses of sh-t. Shyamalan does a rather commendable job here, as he did in Split, of taking some mature themes and frightening situations and making them accessible to wide(r) audiences. There is no affront to the senses (though there could be to some tastes and expectations, as already noted). Even the violence is similar to a comic book film and the blood, mostly, stays offscreen as several characters die. Considering what Split offers the superhero genre - a grounded, realist look at what we flock to without thinking sometimes in Marvel movies - as well as to fans of teen audiences and Shyamalan films, it's more worthy of an entertainment dollar than shocker films and scarefests.
But it does feel like Glass could have been more, better, in the same way that several of the main characters could have. So the letdown is partially on purpose, maybe? Still, the depressed ratings Glass is receiving are mostly because of unrealized potential, which in turn is itself because of so much unrealized potential in-screen. It's a very odd entry that deserves to be seen for its unpredictability, but can hardly be praised, possibly for the same reason.
Shawn McEvoy is Director of Editorial for Salem Web Network, former co-host of Crosswalk.com's Video Movie Reviews, and a later-in-life Harry Potter convert.
Publication date: January 18, 2019
All images courtesy: ©UniversalPictures