HomeMoviesGlass Review: This Unbreakable Movie Feels Broken

Glass Review: This Unbreakable Movie Feels Broken

Photo Credit: Universal


Whatever goodwill M. Night Shyamalan managed to accumulate two years ago with Split was squandered in his latest film, Glass. In this film he could not deliver on what many believed Split’s closing seconds promised: a hyper-realistic and subversive superhero universe. The last second reveal, that the Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) audiences had spent two hours being transfixed by was not simply a mentally ill serial killer, but a super villain to be brought to justice by Bruce Willis’ Unbreakable character, David Dunn, ends up meaning less than it felt like at the time.

The massive hit psychological thriller’s follow-up, Glass, is built on a questionable premise and leaves bizarrely little impression for what is supposedly the climax of a trilogy.

The Unbreakable series is three separate stories about the psychological burdens told through the lens of the incredible gifts on which superhero stories build their foundation. With his three characters of David Dunn, Kevin Crumb and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), Shyamalan attempts to examine the burdens their respective “abilities” put on them as well as partially deconstruct the conventions of the comic book movie genre he now attempts to enter.

Glass brings all three characters together for the first time, confined to a mental hospital by a psychologist (Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Ellie Staple) attempting to convince them their powers are fantasy. The film attempts to define an underlying hypothesis for all three stories, but it either backs down at the last minute or discovers that there was only enough material to make completely work in Unbreakable—and only enough material in Unbreakable to explain the more outlandish parts of Split.

I personally found Split to be a structurally sound, albeit shallow, rainy day thriller that devolves into a problematic disaster in its closing minutes. This is due to the passive nature of its entire female cast, and more importantly its outdated use of physical and sexual abuse. This part is most egregious since its used as a third-act shocker and shorthand for character depth. There are alarming implications of what it seems to say about the abused and mentally ill.

Glass follows a similar structure of decaying quality, but at least has the forethought to end in a less socially-questionable fashion. Instead, it concludes in the most contrived and unearned way imaginable with an out-of-nowhere reveal that undoes any of the supposed-development the characters achieved in the previous two hours by telling them they were right at the very beginning. There was no perception that had to be corrected, nothing that anyone had to learn to grasp the film’s thesis, only the cinematic equivalent of saying “lol, just kidding.” The movie then abandons any of the subtlety or ambiguity it had worked hard for two hours to maintain only to blow it all away in an overt and meaningless nothing of an ending.

Wrapping up his trilogy by making the characters and audience doubt the outlandish reality they already bought into 19 years prior only makes sense if the ending served as a sort of reaffirmation of myth. The problem is that Elijah’s hypothesis of comic books as historical text is inherently ridiculous and not even Samuel L. Jackson’s dead-serious performance can make it sound otherwise. We accept it as truth in Unbreakable because it is the only way for the story to move forward. Now, 19 years after accepting the rules of this new universe, and two years after many got themselves really excited about it, Shyamalan wants his characters and audience to doubt that which they had already accepted.

Such a ploy and reaffirmation is usually reserved for act one of a trilogy to make the hero lose faith in and then solidify their righteous cause or destiny before the first climactic battle. But Shyamalan takes this crisis of faith and moves it to the third act of his trilogy, then strips it of any meaning or reason by abruptly and unsatisfyingly ending those characters’ stories. Audiences are then not given sufficient time to balance out the reaffirmation of the hero and villains’ identities with the disbelief and cynicism with which they had been forced to reconsider the two previous films and entire premise.

What is possibly more telling than it intends to be is that this is the movie Shyamalan has supposedly wanted to make for almost 20 years. His story feels ill-conceived from its inciting incident and collapses in on itself in its finale. Neither of the two major fight scenes promised by Split are particularly well-staged or memorable enough to justify their setup.

Shyamalan’s dialogue has a nasty problem of dumping clunky amounts of exposition rather than letting information be conveyed cinematically, giving few scenes the opportunity to make a lasting impression. The only aspect that Shyamalan feels firmly in control of as a storyteller is his skill ascribing meaning to characters and concepts through on screen color and his use of creative and unconventional camera angles to increase and decrease tension.

McAvoy and Paulson turn in great performances, fully committing to their roles. However, they end up feeling wasted by the one-dimensional plot. McAvoy’s commitment to the role of Kevin is as impressive as it was in Split, but he is more often a prop than a character. Paulson is given almost nothing to do but is at least able to give her blank slate of a character some purpose behind her perpetually neutral expression.

Jackson’s primary purpose as “Mr. Glass” seems to be to draw parallels to comic book tropes that aren’t as clever as he makes them sound. His lines are supposed to give the movie the appearance of an underlying commentary on superhero films that it does not actually have. He provides nice winks at the audience in lines like, “that sounds like the bad guys teaming up,” but his obsession with connecting the real world to comic books only reiterates the part he already played in Unbreakable and deliberately restricts this film from making any point more concrete than “superheroes are real.”

The only times Bruce Willis looks alive on set are when he is fighting Kevin  — and intentionally or not — it makes our de facto protagonist the dullest part of the film. The supporting cast of Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard give decent performances and spend much of the film taking turns providing exposition and emotional anchors for each of Staple’s respective patients.

But then they have a massive amount of agency unexpectedly thrust upon them after having almost none for the bulk of the film. They are given no time to flesh out what their new responsibility means in the overall story or consider the implications of what their collective final act of defiance does to the world they inhabit. What happens after is left open-ended, squandering the opportunity to explore the impact superheroes have on Shyamalan’s world beyond his three primary characters and leaving audiences scratching their heads as to what his larger point might be.

All of which is to give Glass its most generous interpretation possible without bothering to unpack any of the problematic subtext he carried with him from Split. Whether he was aware of it or not, Shyamalan’s 2017 film had a lot to say about the mentally ill and victimhood, hearkening back to the age of movies in which mental illness was a common villain/serial killer trope and oblivious to the way in which Hollywood’s approach to it has changed.

That this is all actually the beginnings of a specific supervillain origin story and not a stand-in for all mental illness, while admittedly less problematic, does not redeem it in my eyes. Unbreakable sets out from the start to be as realistic as possible, set in the mundane contemporary world rather than one like in Marvel or DC stories. By carefully considering each of his super-powered characters to be as “believable” as possible to maintain that realism, Shyamalan draws connections between Dissociative Identity Disorder and those with similar disorders to a capacity for evil in need of defeat. Split trivializes a form of mental illness as entertainment because he wanted an intriguing monster.

Shyamalan then sets his long-awaited magnum opus in an antagonistic mental hospital, inherently turning his audience against it by restraining our heroes and villains from each other and doing its best to quash out of them the very thing that the audience showed up to see. Glass continues the pattern of using Kevin as both a prop and a driving force of the story. In some scenes, Kevin is an uncontrollable force of nature the story revolves around. In others, his human identities are manipulated by characters smarter than him like a cat with a laser pointer.

To the film’s credit, it at least offers some infrequent glimpses of Kevin’s underlying humanity and struggle against his more wicked identities’ power over him. Casey bears a jarring compassion toward Kevin after watching him eat two people, and she takes on the role of the singular positive presence in the film fighting to save what is left of him. At minimum, it does not suggest that the real Kevin wants someone to kill him anymore and attempts to redeem him from his villainous side in his final moments in the film. Casey’s improved social attitude and sympathy toward Kevin is an apparent commentary on victims of trauma learning to accept that part of themselves and recognize it in each other.

This could almost be applauded, were it not for the presumptive nature with which Shyamalan posits an overly-simplified shortcut to cure his illness after invalidating the measures of professional care. Staple’s treatment does not work, only interaction with his former victim/kindred spirit. Metaphorical though it may be, the cynicism the film bears toward professional care stretching through the story coupled with its suddenly romantic approach toward friendship toward its end undercuts the uncompromising nature of Shyamalan’s realistic starting point. It then disposes of the subplot entirely in a three-way unsatisfying reversal that equates our three primary forces to each other in an ending that suggests none of these characters’ emotional journeys matter as much as their physical actions.

Glass starts passably enough but devolves into such a bewildering misfire that I find myself wondering what can possibly come next. If this is all this filmmaker has to show for himself after trying to make this film for 20 years, where can he possibly pivot to? Shyamalan himself has confirmed his superhero universe is now over and his finale feels tepid at best. HisNight Chronicles failed miserably, more of his films have aged into punch lines than not, and do I even need to mention The Last Airbender?

Both the conviction with which Shyamalan attempts to offer commentary on superhero films and the waiting period it took him to make it become crucial nails in its own coffin. No movie with this level of confidence should turn out so unbalanced. Passion projects make nice Hollywood narratives as a concept (Inception is a nice example), but their not-uncommon failures make the scrutiny that much more intense. It makes me wonder if Shyamalan made this film for the steadfast fans of Unbreakable or simply for himself.

Glass closes Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy without a triumphant climax built for decades or a punctuated point effectively made about comic books or psychological burdens of responsibility and disability. It makes the lateral move of asking its fans to doubt its pre-established premise for an hour and a half only to whimper and crawl out of the hole it dug itself. And like Jackson’s titular character, it philosophizes high and mighty, but falls to pieces all too easily.

Rating: 4/10

Glass is now playing in theaters in nationwide.



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