Harrison Burns — Staff Writer
“This is not a cartoon. This is the real world.” Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Elijah Price (or Mr. Glass, as he introduces himself), utters this quote in Glass and explains one of the central themes of this realistic superhero deconstruction—a theme that both embraces and breaks from the comic book narrative. This dichotomy was first introduced in M. Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece Unbreakable (2000). After its secret sequel Split (2016), Shyamalan has returned to finish this unexpected trilogy.
If Unbreakable was the fantastic takeoff and Split the smooth middle, Glass is a bumpy landing that is certainly not without turbulence, but ultimately nails the middle of the runway in an ambitious conclusion.
From a technical standpoint, Glass is an expertly-crafted film; Shyamalan’s proficiency as a director has perhaps never been more on display. The cinematography and shot composition are crisp; the suspense builds with solid pacing; the score is excellent. The soundtrack incorporates themes from Unbreakable and Split as well as new melodies creating a mix of strong nostalgia and excitement.
Glass shows the long-awaited reunion between Bruce Willis’s David Dunn and Elijah Price, as well as James McAvoy’s disturbed Kevin, host of 24 personalities, now thrown into the midst of this surreal struggle. All three Shyamalan veterans bring their full acting prowess to their characters.
McAvoy received vast acclaim for his performance in Split and he has only improved in his incredible acting flexibility as he jumps between the diverse characters fighting for control of Kevin’s body. One scene in particular highlights his skill with a long take that continually circles the room returning to McAvoy as a new personality with each turn: a breathtaking acting feat.
Willis and Jackson deserve credit, as well, returning to their respected characters after almost 20 years since Unbreakable. They are immediately recognizable and relaxed in their aged roles.
Shyamalan melds these characters in a satisfying and intriguing plotline with many wonderful character interactions. Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Ellie Staple only adds to the mystery as she brings the cast of characters together.
The story is a gripping narrative that keeps the audience engaged with many twists and conflicts. But the film is not without its faults. While Unbreakable and Split are focused character studies, Glass is primarily propelled by its plot, meaning crucial character development is sometimes constrained or ignored.
While Shyamalan can get away with this more than some movies because he had two prior films to build these characters, the lack of quiet character moments can be disappointing, especially because those moments are what made Unbreakable such a classic.
David Dunn, in particular, is a victim of this throughout the film, as his character never fully receives the limelight it deserves. That being said, there are hints of artful character development throughout the film, especially for Mr. Glass, and when watched in the context of the layered development of Unbreakable, these failings are much more forgivable.
Like most Shyamalan films, his mastery comes with his odd quirks, and his clunky dialogue rears its head on occasion throughout Glass. On the other hand, these unnatural and bizarre lines can offer fascinating interactions with great actors wrestling with interesting ideas.
Glass is a film of big ideas—sometimes executed well, and other times feeling half-baked. This is no more clearly seen than in its controversial ending. I will not spoil the many twists, but suffice it to say, the ending subverts many expectations.
While the third act can be jarring, it is mostly successful with concluding the themes explored throughout this trilogy. It does not end as the comic book would, but that is exactly consistent with the realistic superhero story Shyamalan set out to tell.
While the question of how successful the ending was at executing the ideas it plays with will certainly be debated, the strange journey of the film is without a doubt entertaining, engaging and deserving of a watch, especially for those who have watched Unbreakable.