PLOT: A psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson) specializing in curing a disorder where people think they are superheroes, is given three days to work with three exceptional patients: Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a serial killer with a dozen distinct personalities, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a mass-murdering criminal genius, and David Dunn, aka The Overseer, who patrols Philadelphia punishing evil-doers.
REVIEW: It’s funny how M. Night Shyamalan’s UNBREAKABLE has risen in esteem over the near twenty-years since it made its theatrical debut. Back then, it was considered something of a disappointment in the wake of THE SIXTH SENSE, but seen now, it was way ahead of its time in how it presented a real-world, grounded take on superhero mythology. Given the fact that with the rise of the MCU superheroes now dominate pop culture, it’s no wonder Shyamalan decided now was the time to finally complete his Eastrail 177 trilogy, with SPLIT being a sneaky way to bridge UNBREAKABLE & GLASS.
Despite SPLIT’s near-unanimous praise, GLASS has been received with a fair amount of scorn by many critics. Given Shyamalan’s propensity to either be really good (THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT) or really bad (THE VILLAGE, LADY IN THE WATER, THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH, THE HAPPENING), I walked in expecting the absolute worst.
Despite the bad buzz, GLASS is nowhere near a bad film – the issue is that it simply can’t quite live up to the other two Eastrail films. While Shyamalan’s talked about the films always being conceived as a trilogy, some of the twists and turns that GLASS uses to link the films together feel hackneyed and forced as if McAvoy’s The Horde is simply being shoe-horned into The Overseer/Glass’s story (despite Willis’s SPLIT cameo). Even still, the movie never fails to entertain, and the first two-thirds of GLASS is pretty exceptional. While the final act goes a bit haywire, it still more or less works and provides a satisfying conclusion to Shyamalan’s only real franchise.
The best thing about GLASS is the fact that, for much of the film, Shyamalan’s is able to pick up on the threads left open by UNBREAKABLE without missing a beat. Rewatching the original recently, the thing that’s most immediately evident was that it was always more about the relationship between Dunn and his son than anything else, so watching the two work as a super-hero team at the start feels like a logical progression.
While many of Bruce Willis’s performances have been lackluster in recent years when challenged he can still deliver, and he’s better here than he’s been in years. He doesn’t have much trouble slipping back into Dunn’s shoes, and his chemistry with the now grown Spencer Treat Clark is as good as it was way back in 2000. The same thing goes for Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Glass, who seems to be having the time of his life jumping back into what he’s always said was one of his favorite roles, even if he spends the first hour catatonic.
Like SPLIT, GLASS is another tour-de-force for James McAvoy, playing what must be every actor’s dream – twelve roles in one body. His physicality is something to behold, although the physical monstrousness of The Beast seems to have been pulled back a bit here to bring it more in line to what Willis’s Dunn can do. If you’re hoping to watch the two square off, you won’t be disappointed, but bear in mind Shyamalan’s not aiming to do a full-on superhero movie, so things stay relatively grounded.
The connection between the movies is further enforced by having Anna Taylor-Joy come back as Casey, who feels a kinship with Kevin – if not the rest of The Horde. Much of GLASS revolves around Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Ellie Staple, and no doubt it’ll be her arc that divides fans, although to be sure, if they’re calling this a trilogy her part in it feels like a logical progression for Shyamalan, with the door left open for further exploration (despite him saying this is the definitive final installment in the series).
While Shyamalan’s is no doubt an inconsistent director, GLASS is more hit than miss, despite the naysayers. To a certain extent, it feels like the logical reaction to his work by critics is to judge it too harshly, and I truly think that’s what’s happening with GLASS. Again, it’s not on the same level as his best work, but it’s also far, far better than his worst, and still a satisfying, if imperfect, follow-up to UNBREAKABLE (I loved the inclusion of deleted scenes from the original as flashbacks). Don’t be scared off by the bad buzz – go see it for yourself and make up your own mind.