The prospect of Shyamalan’s latest film, Glass, is an intriguing one. Unbreakable (2000) is an unpredictable whirlwind of an action thriller and Split (2017) an action-packed psychological rollercoaster with undeniably one of James McAvoy’s best ever performances.
Viewers who have seen the previous two films can be forgiven for being skeptical with regard to this new addition. But it’s hard not to be intrigued. The call-back to Unbreakable in Split’s final scene sparked outrage in many Shyamalan fans and opened up the worry that perhaps this third film in the ‘trilogy’ was going to end up coming across as some mindless cash in? How was Shyamalan going to prove to us that this film had a point?
The premise of Glass is that a group of experimental psychiatrists have decided to study the brains of people who think they are extraordinary, people who think they are super heroes or villains. Those who have seen Unbreakable will know that David Dunn (Willis), otherwise known as The Overseer, is a kind of social justice warrior who believes he has super strength in the sense that he cannot be injured or get ill like normal human beings can. On the other end of the scale, Elijah Price (Jackson), despite having a severe brittle bone disease that leaves him confined to a wheelchair, believes he is an intellectual genius. And then we have Kevin (McAvoy) who features in Split as the captor of three teenage girls. Kevin suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, which means his body is the home of at least 23 prominent personalities. He also believes that his body contains The Beast, who has dangerous physical abilities that should be defined as super-human.
The three main characters are, unsurprisingly, what holds it all together. Willis, Jackson and McAvoy give astonishing performances in their respective roles in Unbreakable and Split. A big fear, however, was that these three protagonists simply wouldn’t exist very comfortably within the same universe, but to be fair to Glass, the linking together of their stories using comic books was rather well done. But, then again, it’s a real shame that dialogue was relied upon to explain their cross-overs, rather than showing viewers. A great deal of the film, particularly the first half, saw characters sitting in rooms, talking through the events of the past films, reminding audiences of why things are significant. It’s clumsy and, at its worst, cringe-inducing.
A nice touch was seeing Spencer Treat Clark return as David Dunn’s son, and this was the only time where using scenes from the original film really worked, as audiences could see the likeness in the actors eyes and appreciate it. Other than this instance, though, the cutting and pasting of old scenes from Unbreakable and Split felt dangerously similar to a student-made PowerPoint presentation.
Considerable chunks of the narrative are ridiculously implausible. How, for starters, did anyone gain the legal rights to lock up David Dunn, the Overseer, in a psychiatric hospital? And why did he just sit there and resign himself to the fact he was going to be locked up indefinitely? And let’s not even mention the awful security in a hospital that houses mentally unstable serial killers. You don’t need to be a criminal mastermind like Elijah Price to be able to escape from a hospital that has literally no security on shift.
Sarah Paulson, an accomplished actress from American Horror Story and Bird Box, is given an unbelievable, vacuous and downright boring character. The motivation behind her actions is not clear, and her constant explaining of the plot is a bore.
The fight scenes are also disappointing. Kevin has the ability to transform into a murderous, beast-like creature, and Dunn is ‘unbreakably’ strong. And yet, their scuffles are laughable, consisting only of grabbing each other’s necks and swinging round in circles. The most impressive scene is when Dunn bends a steel pole in half. These people are supposed to be super heroes and super villains here. It’s just silly.
Of course, as is Shyamalan’s trademark, the film isn’t without some big twists and turns. And he’s normally very skilled at pulling these off, giving enough hints for the twist to be plausible but not enough so as to make it easy to guess what curve ball is coming. Unfortunately, the big twist in Glass just doesn’t make any sense. It’s as if they were last minute considerations, because it wouldn’t be a Shyamalan film if there wasn’t a huge double take towards the end.
I’m honestly not trying to catch Shyamalan out, I really wanted to enjoy this film as much as I had enjoyed its predecessors. But that is one unbelievably difficult task. Glass is a truly infuriating film. Once it gets going, it is an enjoyable watch, and Jackson, McAvoy and Willis are stand-out. At times it even feels genuinely like a super hero film. It remains, however, the weakest film of the three by far.
Words by Becca Moody