Released: 17th January
Seen: 17th January
In 2000, M. Night Shyamalan brought out the movie Unbreakable. Unbreakable was a movie that posed the question “What if superheroes were real people?” roughly 8 years before anyone had even contemplated the idea of a Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it barely made its budget back domestically, the film is considered one of the best superhero films made and was made back when the name M. Night Shyamalan didn’t immediately elicit a groan from paying customers. Then in 2016, Split came out and was a huge success and basically rehabilitated M. Night’s image after a string of disasters. It also had a scene at the end of it that told the audience that Split and Unbreakable were in the same universe and it was only a matter of time before the main characters from both movies would have to meet… but did they have to meet in a place like this?
Glass picks up relatively soon after Split, with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) still suffering from the multiple personalities rolling around in his head that have made him kidnap another group of women. This time, however, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is there and he saves the girls and fights Kevin, who is now being controlled by the personality known simply as ‘The Beast’. It’s during this fight that Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) arrives with a large police force to take both men into a facility to try and help them come to terms with what they believe is making them superheroes. Oh, and she has a third patient in the facility named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), and he has plans of his own for the two men he believes to be living breathing superheroes.
This is basically The Avengers for The Unbreakable Universe; it’s the movie where all of the superheroes (Or, in this case, two supervillains and a hero) come together for a big battle that’s been built up for years. Of course, Glass takes a slightly more interesting approach by suggesting that these superheroes and supervillains may just be men with mental illnesses who have a delusion of grandeur brought on by childhood trauma. It’s actually a fascinating idea, a way to explore the elements of the superhero genre and deconstruct them. The Unbreakable Universe has been regularly praised for how good it is at deconstructing the traditional hero narrative and the superhero clichés… but the problem is that this film is now in a post MCU world, superhero movies have a different set of clichés to them now and the deconstruction isn’t as sharp as it once was.
The movie feels like it was waiting to be made since the year 2000 and forgot to update anything beyond the superficial details. I mean, the reason the movie feels that way is because it has been waiting to be made since 2000, this trilogy was planned from the beginning and was delayed because Unbreakable didn’t do the insane box office numbers that The Sixth Sense did. The tiny adjustments made to keep things modern just feel tacked on. Sure, it might seem current to have a 2-minute discussion about who Salt Bae is when a teenager randomly references him in a sentence (Because teenagers totally say “I Salt Bae’d his ass”. It’s a thing they do all the time, isn’t that right fellow kids?). It’s almost jarring how out of time this movie feels, ideas that sound like they would’ve been so cool to see in the early 2000s are now dated to the level that they appear in straight to DVD Chucky movies. Hell, Cult of Chucky was actually more visually impressive than this movie, everything here just feels drab and like… well, it was meant to be shot in 2003 but couldn’t be because no one cared enough yet.
What helps this film a lot is that it has Samuel L Jackson, a man who is so charismatic that he could read you the phone book and it would be highly engaging. This is a man so cool that he can still be cooler than you while wearing the ugliest purple suit you’ve ever seen in your life. He has to play this charming villain and he does it with such intensity that anyone who shares a scene with him is basically set dressing… except for James McAvoy who is, legitimately, the biggest reason to see this film. I thought his work in Split was incredible, the bouncing between personalities was really something special there but to see him do it in a single take with the camera panning away, flashing a light (Not a strobe, single flash like the light on a camera) and then panning back to show him as someone else. It’s insane to watch how he makes it work, it’s already my favourite performance of the year even though this film, in general, is the one I like the least so far.
Oh, also Bruce Willis turned up and collected his paycheck…
So this film’s major issue is that it’s a messy muddled mixture of good ideas and exposition. Every single solitary idea that this film could just be showing us has to be explained in detail by multiple characters. It’s one of the most common phrases associated with motion pictures, “Show, don’t tell”. We do not need lengthy boring monologues about the history of comic books or about the specific medical conditions or be reminded a dozen times that they have 3 days to convince these 3 men that they aren’t superheroes (An arbitrary amount of time that means literally nothing in the long run, for the record). The best moments of this film happen when they actually trust the audience to follow what they’re doing and just do the cool superhero action thriller that we’ve been promised.
To compound this issue of the film being a mixture of ideas, it also falls into Shyamalan’s biggest cliché, the shocking twist in the final act that can only be responded too by saying “What a twist” like you’re in a Robot Chicken sketch. It has several of these and they are there to add a pointless 10 minutes onto the ending because superhero films are two hours long so, therefore, this one needs to be two hours long. I have no plans on revealing what these twists are but only one of them works, it might make the ending feel like an anti-climax but it’s also weirdly appropriate. The second one is just pure bull and actually had me sitting in the cinema going “Really? Really? We’re really doing this?” because it was that kind of pathetic.
There is also just the general problem with suggesting that a mental illness makes you into a monster/superhero of some kind, one that I am absolutely not in any way qualified to talk about (Except I have a blog so I kind of need to talk about it) so let me state that while I personally enjoy McAvoy’s performance, I absolutely understand how it can be seen as harmful to mentally ill people and while I think he does do a good exaggerated performance that is wildly entertaining to watch, it’s not an accurate representation of the illness in question and we have to be aware of that. It also is undoubtedly not great for an entire movie to base its entire premise around “We can make you believe you’re not a superhero by making you believe you’re just mentally ill”, a problematic issue that could’ve been handled so much better. It’s almost like this wasn’t thought through as much as they would like us to believe because no one looked at the entire plotline of “You’re just mentally ill” and wondered if that was going to be a problem of some kind.
Glass is not awful, but it has elements that fit that word pretty well. While some of the cast is great and the opening two-thirds of the film has a lot of really cool ideas that could’ve been fun to explore, it’s overstuffed to the point of bursting and has a lot of moments that just reek of the worst stuff Shyamalan has put out. When the movie is on the ball it actually works, but those moments are entirely based on the performances by Samuel Jackson and James McAvoy and nothing else. There’s some interesting camera work and maybe a few ideas that are worth examining at some point but this is really a film you see if you were a big fan of Unbreakable and Split and want to see the two villains from those movie’s interact… oh, and have Bruce Willis there because he’s contractually obligated to turn up.