Glass is most in its element when it brilliantly expands on the themes of power and belief laid out by its previous installments, but a last-minute plot twist prevents the film from sticking the landing.
Glass is the final entry of writer and director M. Night Shyamalan’s “Eastrail 177” trilogy as it definitively connects the two stories depicted in Unbreakable and Split and provides closure on this saga. In many ways, the entry that started it all, 2000’s Unbreakable, was ahead of its time as the superhero genre was far less prevalent 20 years ago. With the genre’s popularity currently being at an all-time high, it appears to be the perfect time for Shyamalan to circle back and conclude this unconventional trilogy. While the hit or miss director expands on many of the novel ideas from 2016’s Split, Glass doesn’t quite stick the landing as it is burdened with a ludicrous last-minute plot development that undermines much of what occurs earlier in the film.
Glass picks up shortly after the end of Split as we are reunited with Kevin Wendell Crumb AKA “The Horde” (James McAvoy), a man composed of 24 distinct personalities, one of which is “The Beast,” a personality that endows Kevin with superhuman abilities. Simultaneously, we are reacquainted with the inhumanely strong David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and his sidekick son (Spencer Treat Clark) who are hard at work keeping the streets of Philadelphia safe. The two superpowered beings inevitably cross paths as David attempts to rescue a group of cheerleaders that “The Horde” is intent on sacrificing.
In a plot turn to affirm that this is not your typical superhero film, this clash of titans is cut short as David and Kevin are swiftly captured and institutionalized at Ravenhill Psychiatric Hospital. The two, along with David’s brilliant arch nemesis, a seemingly despondent Elijah Price, AKA “Mr. Glass” (Samuel L. Jackson), are being extensively interviewed by psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). Dr. Staple is convinced that the three men are in actuality mentally ill, and she is determined to convince them that there is a rational explanation for every “superhuman” feat they have ever accomplished. Despite a mounting list of evidence to the contrary, “Mr. Glass” remains as determined as ever in his belief that superheroes do exist, and he will do whatever it takes to unveil this truth to the world.
The ensuing struggle of whether these three patients are gifted individuals or simply plagued with delusions of grandeur is Glass at its strongest. It’s a brilliant extension from Split’s central idea of finding strength in vulnerability, only this time questioning whether there is power to be derived through a person’s delusions. This sense of doubt and uncertainty is made more effective thanks to Shyamalan’s reputation and the implicit understanding that we could be in store for yet another twist ending that changes everything we thought we knew.
The practical explanations for the supernatural are so enticing that you can feel the audience’s faith in these character’s abilities being whittled away despite being shown evidence indicating the contrary in the two previous installments. The decision to have large action sequences take place in unspectacular locations such as a parking lot and a warehouse is also at odds with the more exotic locations typically utilized in the latest MCU or DCEU film. These realistic settings also lend themselves to creating a kernel of doubt in the viewer’s mind regarding if what we are witnessing is completely genuine.
Although chiefly a story focused on superheroes, I was still surprised at the number of action sequences featured in Glass considering the last two films were largely psychological thrillers. This inclusion is initially jarring as the combat seems awkward compared to the sophisticated sequences fans of the genre have become accustomed to. However, close-ups on the actor’s faces help to minimize how awkward it looks, and I found over time that the clumsy nature of the battles actually fit with the theme of being unsure if these individuals are superpowered or clinically insane.
Despite being the movie’s namesake, it takes a while for Jackson’s“Mr. Glass” to show up, as the character is only present after a sizable chunk of the story has occurred. Just as with Unbreakable, Samuel L. Jackson steals the show here as his portrayal of the brilliantly maniacal mastermind is somehow both the most sympathetic and deplorable character of this entire saga. After almost 20 years away from this character, Jackson is just as game as ever, now with even more meta quips regarding superhero tropes at his disposal.
The entire cast is stellar with Anya Taylor-Joy and Bruce Willis being the other standouts in the ensemble. James McAvoy also continues to be good, but his performance has lost much of the novelty that made his revelatory performance in Split so magnetic. There isn’t much new or compelling material for the actor to sink his teeth into as it is mostly a rehash from Split with a few too many humorous moments relegating the performance more as shtick than as a compelling portrayal of a disturbed individual.
Despite there being a lot to appreciate during much of the film, Glass flubs the ending pretty hard through a ridiculously out of left field reveal. Aside from not being properly alluded to, the reveal feels so out of place that it dulls much of the emotional impact present as the film’s climax brings the trilogy to a close.
I suppose it’s fitting for the man most associated with the twist-ending storytelling device to incorporate one too many of these and taint an otherwise great story. Overall the film still remains mostly satisfying, but much like David Dunn and Keven Wendell Crumb during their time at the mental institute, the ending will leave the viewer questioning whether they just witnessed something uniquely great or just your run of the mill conclusion that couldn’t stick the landing.
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