Glass isn’t about heroes and villains. It’s about superheroes and supervillains, as its characters frequently remind you. It’s about individuals with super powers that set them apart from the rest of humanity. The problem is that the story isn’t quite as super as the superheroes and supervillains that dance around the plot, neither does it give you an insightful look into the ordinary, normal human condition. Its reach far exceeds its grasp, and the cracks in Glass start to show once Act Two begins.
The third film in what has been termed the Eastrail 177 Trilogy, Glass is a sequel to 2016’s supervillain-centred Split and 2000’s superhero-centered Unbreakable. The film pulls together the superheroes and supervillains from the previous two films as they meet in an epic clash… in a mental institution.
It sounds like a promising premise at first. Hero David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and villain Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) have an encounter that results in the two of them being captured and put into a mental institution, where David’s nemesis Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) is also held. Never mind that David is “captured” because of the flimsiest of reasons, because that’s the first crack in what eventually seems to be a widening spiderweb of odd narrative choices and events in Glass.
Glass is not a standalone movie — you will need to have watched Unbreakable and Split to understand why comic book references are so important in the film, and for some of the key scenes to have a proper dramatic payoff. It’s easy enough to follow, but in an era where superhero movies are a dime a dozen, not having caught the previous two films might leave you in the dark about why it’s so important that superheroes and supervillains exist.
The cinematography in Glass is creative and spectacular, supporting the themes and message of the film itself (as obtuse as those themes may be in the beginning). You can understand the duality of the hero/villain dichotomy much more clearly through the artistically framed shots than from the sometimes didactic dialogue. In terms of visuals, Glass stands up with most of director M. Night Shyamalan’s trademark intensity, which leads to heavy, dramatic scenes.
Conflicts are milked for all their worth, their intensity dialled up to eleven thanks to the way those clashes are shot. It all seems to be riding towards a gigantic payoff and an amazing reveal, despite the lingering doubts you may have about the bulk of the film being set in a mental institution. Granted, the setting does provide a legitimate reason to psychoanalyse the characters for us (and get new viewers up to speed on their backgrounds, powers, significance and so forth). The exposition is cleverly done such that you don’t actually realise that psychiatrist Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is actually just telling you information about the characters.
But that’s about it for the setting — for characters who are as super as they are, you can’t help question how a mere mental institution can hold them. It’s a mental institution that has a skeleton crew for its security and guards that only appear in the climax. Once you realise this, the film starts to come apart at the seams, and you realise that it’s a terribly underwhelming place for so much of the plot to unfold.
The film ends with a big, fact “so what?” Yes, the world of Glass (or the Eastrail 177 Trilogy) is changed forever, but what does it matter? It tries too hard to deliver an unexpected, wowser of a final battle, but it also wants to make sure that it keeps enough of its stakes so that you can watch the possible sequel and franchise that may arise. By trying to do both, it ends up accomplishing neither goal. And the stakes weren’t all that super to begin with.
Ironically, were Glass to have gone with the more “formulaic” comic book plot that it keeps harping about, it may very well have ended in a much more spectacular way (and it would have accomplished both goals). Yet for all its talk about an amazing showdown, it never quite happens. There’s the sneaking suspicion that budget constraints might have prevented the much talked about showdown, especially since the plot seemed to have been leading there.
Glass is entertaining enough, but it leaves barely any impact on the audience. Unlike Unbreakable‘s thought-provoking musings and Split‘s terrifying villain, you don’t take away anything from this film. It certainly feels like the previous two movies were pointless, and Glass itself is impact-less. Still, there’s something to be said for seeing a comic book fan mash together superhuman characters from previous films, so Glass does hold up as a fun flick for a weekday night.
Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.
Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? No.
Secret ending? No.
Running time: 129 minutes (~2.25 hours)
Glass is a superhero drama that’s a sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable and 2016’s Split.
The film revolves around the superhumanly tough and strong hero from Unbreakable clashing with the maniacal dissociative identity disorder villain with a superhumanly bestial personality from Split, all while the incredibly fragile but manipulative villain from Unbreakable watches on. However, there’s more than meets the eye to this clash between good and evil.
Glass is directed and written by by M. Night Shyamalan. It stars James McAvoy (The Horde/Kevin Wendell Crumb), Bruce Willis (The Overseer/David Dunn), Samuel L. Jackson (Mr Glass/Elijah Price), Sarah Paulson (Dr Ellie Staple), Anya Taylor-Joy (Casey Cooke), Spencer Treat Clark (Joseph Dunn), and Charlayne Woodard (Mrs Price). It is rated PG-13.
Glass opens in cinemas:
– 17 January, 2019 (Singapore)
– 16 January, 2o19 (Philippines)
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Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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