Glass brings an end to a saga over 19 years in the making. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Eastrail 177” trilogy started with Unbreakable in 2000 and picked up with Split in 2016. For the past few years, many have wondered how Shyamalan was going to merge the narratives of two of his arguably best films.
Picking up shortly after Split, the many personalities inside Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) have wasted no time in showing the world their true sinister potential. Their criminal activities have caught the attention of David Dunn (Bruce Willis)- who has since increased his heroic status since the events of Unbreakable. One thing leads to another, and they find themselves locked in a mental institution alongside Elijah Price a.k.a. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). The trio finds themselves part of a study led by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) and her goal is to prove to them that they possess no supernatural abilities, and are like nothing seen in the average comic book. This overall plot serves as an interesting follow-up to the previous two films, considering one was a heroic origin story and the other a villainous one.
Not only is this gist interesting enough to keep one’s attention, but the cast could not be more invested. Jackson and Willis slip naturally back into their respective roles and make it seem like they have been longing for this return. McAvoy continues to steal scenes, and even adds more surprises and depth that was not previously seen in Split. Returning supporting characters from the previous two films are also just as invested and excited to finally collaborate with each other’s narratives. Shyamalan deserves credit on naturally merging the cast and tone of these two films 16 years apart. No one’s involvement in this crossover feels forced or out of touch with Shyamalan’s vision.
The only element that feels jarring within the cast rests with Paulson’s Dr. Staple. Paulson is a fantastic actress and she is felt throughout the majority of the film, but this is a stagnant feeling. Paulson has some of the most screen time, but her talent feels somewhat wasted due to the lack of range she is granted by the script. However, she reminds the audience why she is so great by making the best of it, thus allowing the crucial role to not fall completely flat.
On the topic of the script is where many will start to be divided. Besides featuring a sometimes underwhelming antagonist, many will find Shyamalan guilty of diving too deep into the nostalgia pool. Nostalgia is always going to have some sort of presence in a sequel to an older favorite and Glass displays some of the basic forms as nostalgia such as re-spoken lines, visual callbacks, and glorified cameos. However, it does this so often that some nods start to feel repetitive. The nostalgia in Glass works best for those who are really familiar with Shyamalan’s trilogy. Unfortunately, those who are not as familiar and those who do not have a high tolerance for nostalgia will find some moments cliched.
It’s highly likely that the third act will gather the most discussion on Glass; which is in keeping with the tradition of Shyamalan’s past films that have a notorious reputation for divisive third acts. Some of his older films have aged better through their bold revelations; while others argue that some are still being misunderstood. This is not the case with Glass. The unexpected happens just like in every other Shyamalan film, but the reception that it meets does not come from it being misunderstood. Extreme decisions are made, to say the least and with extreme decisions come extreme reactions. Shyamalan’s vision does manage to hold some viability until the end. Nonetheless, what comes in the third act tarnishes it through revelations that feel unearned. One can understand why a writer like Shyamalan would want a twist so shocking, but perhaps do not reveal it without a single ounce of plausible setup? It also does not help that there are three huge reveals before the credits roll. If even one fails to engage (like it does), the other two come at a higher risk of losing the audience.
Another misstep is that Glass does not fully work for viewers who have not seen the previous two films. However, some may praise it for not fully feeding necessary knowledge to new viewers (just like some other recent comic book films). Others will find themselves left in the dust as they struggle to follow along. Whether this a strength or weakness for Glass can be debated, but it would work best in one’s favor to watch the other two films in the trilogy beforehand.
One’s first viewing of Glass can be best described as riding a rollercoaster without a safety bar. It can be exhilarating and fun at times, but one sharp twist or turn can lead to flying off the ride. Those who manage to stay on for the entire time will probably favor the experience more than those who fell off. Even then, they still might question why they almost did fall off. There are plenty of other thrills on the ride such as sleek visuals by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis and a superb score by West Dylan Thordson. It is unfortunate that the rocky script will prevent many from giving enough praise to those elements.
The journey leading to Glass has been a suspenseful and emotional one. The pressure of completing and acing the grounded superhero saga spawned years ago, could not have been higher on Shyamalan. After a single viewing of Glass, one can see that the director/writer completed his trilogy seemingly without any pressure. This may not be a positive for everyone for this lack of pressure is felt through many of the film’s extreme twists and turns. Shyamalan is no stranger to bold decisions, but the choices made in Glass are not always what is best for the film.
Through its many ups and downs, Glass still stands as a somewhat decent sequel to two of Shyamalan’s best entries. For being such an unconventional filmmaker, a lot of what works in the film is quite conventional by today’s comic book movie standards. The more unconventional will surely find its audience. Even with this being the case, one will still be left slightly disappointed and wondering what more could have been with so much potential.
M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass hits theaters this Friday, January 18.