*. First off, I’ll give M. Night Shyamalan full credit for marching to the beat of his own drum. Glass is a personal and intelligent reflection on comic book culture that doesn’t go for easy points. It’s knowing, but not arch or ironic. Many people described it as Shyamalan’s love letter to superhero comics and I think that’s fair enough.
*. It’s also timely, being released at the moment of peak Marvel: just after Avengers: Infinity War and just before Avengers: Endgame. Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson, who seems miscast to me) specializes in people who believe they are superheroes, a form of delusion of grandeur that is approaching an epidemic. Instead of the Three Christs of Ypsilanti we have a trio of comic book heroes and villains introduced in the previous two instalments of the trilogy: Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) and the Overseer (Bruce Willis) from Unbreakable and the Beast (James McAvoy) from Split.
*. So as I say, it’s timely. And the story has an interesting hook (insert spoiler alert here), with Dr. Staple being the villainous mastermind trying to demystify our world. Which is, in fact, a comic book world. The three heroes are basically figures from our collective unconscious, archetypes who are made real through our faith or belief in them.
*. Such a plot involves an interesting twist, where the forces of law and order seeking to protect us are the bad guys, while the villains turn out to be representative of a Romantic dark side or unrestrained id. How odd is it that Elijah Price is a mass murderer and Kevin Crumb a serial killer but both are redeemed at the end and presented as heroes? Sure they’re both “broken” characters because of their background, but so are many if not most bad people. Is the point that without their villainy there could be no good guys like David Dunn? Or is it that their crimes aren’t real in some sense? I thought this was rather fuzzy.
*. You could imagine a good movie being made out of such a premise. I’m not sure Glass is that movie though. For starters, and on the most basic level, it’s dull. Aside from the initial battle between the Overseer and the Beast I don’t think anything at all happens in the first hour.
*. I’ve nothing against talky pictures, but the talk here only advances the plot very slowly and the point being made isn’t in need of such development. Nor did I feel that I was getting to know any of the main characters better, or that they were being given any more depth than they had in the previous films. If anything, Mr. Glass and David Dunn seem less interesting than they were in Unbreakable. (I have to enter the caveat here that something like an hour of Glass was cut from the final print. From the deleted scenes included with the DVD, however, I doubt my opinion would change even if I’d seen a three-hour version.)
*. One of the big questions coming into Glass was whether Willis would at least pretend to be awake for his role, and I think the answer is “sort of.” This is an actor who seems to have found his comfort zone. Or else he’s lost interest. Maybe both.
*. If the leads are dealt with in a cursory manner this is even more the case with their attendant supporting figures, who have little function to play aside from doing some basic research into comic books, which allows the finale here to take on a bit of a Scream quality (“This is the part of the story when this happens,” etc.)
*. I’m assuming the organization wanted the trio to escape, because just having a single orderly on duty for such a large facility was kind of hard to figure otherwise.
*. Audiences were said to be confused by the ending. I think it more likely they were disappointed. It’s not complicated, but it is anticlimactic. Hell, the Overseer is drowned in a puddle. It’s hard to beat that for a depressing finale. But I guess that was the point, undercutting the superheroic mythos and making it real at the same time. The story clearly couldn’t end there, however, so there’s an even more disappointing coda suggesting some kind of viral superhero awakening. I couldn’t buy into this at all, and indeed had trouble understanding exactly what Shyamalan was suggesting. That we are all superheroes if we only believe in ourselves enough? A nice thought, but it seems hardly worth taking us a trilogy of films to get to.
*. It’s well made, if by that you mean it’s polished and looks nice. But while Shyamalan conceived of Glass as being at least in part a thriller, suspense seems not to have been the intention. Instead there’s just the feeling of things proceeding slowly toward a downbeat resolution. Yes, it’s a refreshing mix of genre filmmaking with the cinema of personal expression. It’s just that Shyamalan doesn’t have much that’s new to say. His thoughts on genre remain generic. What he was after was a “tonal fresh break” with the comic book genre but what does that end up meaning except that Glass moves slower than a Marvel movie and relies less on special effects?
*. Despite being too long for the modest bit of ground it covers I liked Glass most of the time. It’s just that I didn’t like it as much as Unbreakable and perhaps not even as much as Split. After three of these movies I can’t say I feel like I came out ahead.