GLASS – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave), Spencer Treat Clark (Gladiator), Charlayne Woodard (Pose)

Writer/Director: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense)

Runtime: 2 hours 9 minutes

Release Date: 18 January (US, UK)

Unbreakable was a film a little too ahead of its time, deconstructing the mythos of superheroes several years before the genre found solid footing in the modern cinema landscape. In retrospect, it’s a solid and provoking piece of work from M. Night Shyamalan, and even from its initial release the director promised it would actually be the first instalment in a trilogy. But Shyamalan moved on to make progressively worse and worse films, and the hope for future films slowly drifted away. Then suddenly, Split came out and not only revitalised Shyamalan’s reputation as a filmmaker, but was the surprise sequel to Unbreakable all along! With that film’s success, it seems Shyamalan’s wish finally came true and the story has finally come to a close in this climactic trilogy ender…but don’t get your hopes up. Glass is unfortunately a humungous disappointment, leaving the trilogy ending on an unceremonious whimper.

The film’s story picks up shortly after the events of Split, and in its opening moments it does a solid job of catching us up on characters from both films before uniting them in a cohesive manner. It’s a promising set-up that hooks you in, but once the main plot actually begins the film loses all momentum. Glass is in the odd predicament of being incredibly tedious and drawn-out, but still extremely lacking in detail and character. The majority of the film is set within the grounds of a psychiatric asylum, and mostly consists of characters discussing mental health, delusions and superhero analogies with nary a lick of tension. The pacing is lackadaisical and filled with very little of actual substance, resulting in a film that runs over two hours and yet barely has enough actual plot to fill the average episode of a TV show. The story keeps promising to build to an epic climax, but it just fails to happen. This undercutting of this expectation is clearly intentional, but it doesn’t replace that obvious leap with something more intriguing. Instead, it piles on multiple unremarkable twists that don’t even manage to be entertainingly ludicrous; they’re just dull and underdeveloped. By its conclusion, Glass fails to bring the stories of these three films together into a coherent thesis, creating for an experience that actually diminishes its prior entries as a whole rather than strengthens them.

Glass doesn’t really have a clear protagonist, leading to what often feels like its cast apathetically fighting for relevancy. Bruce Willis’ David Dunn seems like the obvious candidate, but the character surprisingly lacks much motivation or development beyond the first act, becoming a mere prop by the film’s conclusion. Willis’ dispassionate performance doesn’t help much either, which isn’t helped by the film constantly using scenes from Unbreakable as flashbacks; they barely even seem like the same actor anymore. James McAvoy is still deliciously over-the-top as Kevin and his multiple personalities, but he’s just doing the same thing he did in Split and the ending undercuts any interesting development made with him. The film may be named after the supervillain alter ego of Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, but the character doesn’t even speak until it is nearly halfway over. Jackson is as committed as ever and it is great to finally see the character openly embrace his villainous side, but there’s only so much he can do with the material given to him.

Sarah Paulson is the sole new major character as Dr. Ellie Staple and she delivers an understated but compelling performance, helping to centre the film’s meandering second act. However, where the character goes by the film’s end feels incredibly undercooked; I can’t say much more without spoiling it, but it’s needlessly overcomplicated and needed either further development or to be dropped entirely. Anya Taylor-Joy returns as Casey, Kevin’s main victim from Split, but despite a lot of promise from that film Glass completely fails to deliver on what it established. Not only has one of Casey’s biggest issues been resolved off-screen in between films, undercutting the tragedy and uneasiness of the prior story’s ending, but her unique abilities aren’t even properly put to good use; why was all that set up if it was never going to pay off? Similarly, Spencer Treat Clark, reprising his role as David’s son Joseph, seems like he’s being set up for his own interesting arc that is quickly forgotten, whilst Charlayne Woodard is practically wasted as Price’s mother.

On a technical level, Glass does an effective job of fusing the aesthetics of both Unbreakable and Split. It certainly resembles the latter film more in its cinematography and design, but it does bring over welcome elements from the former like its use of colour palette signifiers. There’s a lot of the usual Shyamalan quirks like long panning takes and peculiar camera angles, which are seemingly there to be off-putting but they are ultimately more distracting than anything. The film’s score by West Dylan Thordson is one of the film’s more consistently enjoyable elements, perfectly setting the mood and balancing a fine line between understated and heroic; these compositions are worthier of a much better film that this.

I wish Glass were either much better or much worse than it is. It is neither a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy, nor an entertainingly bad disaster. It’s just kind of dull. After doing so well to resist his usual vices on Split, M. Night Shyamalan has instead delivered what is far from his worst film but is arguably his most unremarkable. The story is limp and sparse in detail, the pacing is abysmal and tedious, the characters lack any kind of interesting growth, and its ending doesn’t satisfy on any level as a definitive end to what began nineteen years ago. After all this waiting and hype, Glass is ultimately better left alone and forgotten. Unbreakable and Split are far better films on their own terms rather than as some part of this haphazard three-part saga, and Shyamalan clearly still has a lot to grapple with in regards to his approach to filmmaking.



Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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