‘Glass’ review: Bold antithesis to superhero genre

Glass subverts your expectations enough to make it a bold antithesis to the superhero genre.

Nobody foresaw the “Eastrail 177 trilogy” coming into life until the closing credits of the psychological horror thriller Split, which revealed itself to be a standalone sequel to the 2000 superhero-thriller Unbreakable. It’s a brilliant move for M. Night Shyamalan’s filmmaking career —now fans of either film will flock to see how it all ends up in Glass, easily making this as one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year.

That being said, Glass works best as a sequel to Unbreakable. To be fair, Split feels like the disconnected tissue of the franchise (which aptly fits considering it tackles Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID]). If Unbreakable is a character study of an everyday man coming to terms with his amazing gift of super-strength and precognition abilities, Glass puts the said hero into action. Dubbed as ‘The Overseer,’ David Dunn (Bruce Willis) of the first film now runs a home security store but secretly pursues a vigilante life with the aid of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). The father-son relationship remains to be the strongest emotional core here and one could have wished for a more fleshed out dynamic, or perhaps just a larger arc for David. Nevertheless, Willis delivers a wise and grounded performance to successfully revitalize a character from 19 years ago.

Bruce Willis reprises his role, David Dunn in ‘Glass.’

However, it is Split’s Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) a.k.a. The Horde with 24 different personalities, who actually takes the center stage for the most part. Kevin is back at it again with kidnapping and murdering teenage girls while McAvoy once again astounds in a role that is designed to showcase his tenacious commitment and powerhouse act. Glass features other personalities that weren’t featured in Split but I must say that he still delivers best as the sinister Patricia. The film wastes no time in pitting Kevin against David and the plot leads you to believe that this will be a classic hero vs. villain story. But director/writer M. Night Shyamalan pulls the rug out of you by the third act (more of that later).

James McAvoy (Kevin) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Casey) in ‘Glass.’

It is only halfway through where the film’s namesake, Elijah Price a.k.a. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), is reintroduced. Last time we heard of him, he’s locked away in a mental institution, harmless and heavily sedated, as it appears to be. A new character, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) steps up and puts David and Kevin in the same facility. At the moment, it may seem like a counterintuitive decision. It’s only a matter of time before Mr. Glass’ insanely intelligent mind can formulate an escape plan or who-knows-whatever-nefarious scheme he has been concocting for years now.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the titular character in ‘Glass.’

By the second half, a mood swing occurs and this is where the plot starts to get meandering—but never boring, mind you. Dr. Ellie aims to convince them that their abilities are not supernatural but rather delusions of grandeur. It weakly pokes the viewer’s stance, especially after we’ve seen Kevin crawling on the ceiling earlier—clearly there’s something up her sleeve. And so what follows are intellectual banters, heavy-handed expositions and comic book meta-references. Shyamalan keeps us hooked with seamlessly incorporated deleted scenes from Unbreakable to reinforce the idea that their superhuman identities are forged in traumas. His excellent shot composition also assigns color motif fit for each character’s psyche and mood.

Sarah Paulson as psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Kemper in ‘Glass.’

Glass operates in a smaller budget and those looking for bombastic tentpole action sequences will be disappointed. The staging of the climactic battle looks and feels nothing like Marvel and DC and I for one am glad that it does not go to that route. Shyamalan has proven to be an ambitious filmmaker and while the risks he takes don’t always pay off —like when Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) suddenly warms up towards her former captor Kevin (a faulty case of stockholm syndrome)—the director can be commended for having the audacity to do something different in the comic-book mythology. Obviously, there’s no clear road map of this trilogy 19 years ago. Hence, he opted for a more on-the-nose execution here to make sure that audiences are picking up with the singular vision he has in store.

A mass murderer (Samuel L. Jackson), a cannibal monster (James McAvoy) and an unlikely superhero (Bruce Willis) are locked up in an asylum in ‘Glass.’

Much of your ultimate liking for Glass boils down on its third act filled with shocking twists, one after another. Personally, I think it ends in a phenomenal fashion: what starts out to be a grounded superhero thriller film mostly shot in a claustrophobic hospital winds up on a shocking scope that might just outsmart any other superhero origin film. It’s not a desirable conclusion that will please most viewers but it’s the ending that fits well with Shyamalan’s vision. For that, I am deeply satisfied.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan, ‘Glass‘ stars James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard. Run time: 129 minutes.

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