I think what is particularly galling about M Night Shyamalan’s latest flick, Glass, is that it comes so very close to being an excellent movie. And yet, somehow, manages to wind up as utter shite anyway.
Glass is the third part of Shyamalan’s trilogy of movies, which began with Unbreakable in 1999 and continued with Split in 2016, and follows David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Mr Glass (Samuel L Jackson, both from Unbreakable) and Kevin (James MacAvoy) as they are treated for what appear to be delusional illnesses surrounding their own beliefs in their apparent superpowers.
And, now, I just want to make it clear that I find this notion very compelling – Shyamalan is, as I wrote recently, a man whose name is synonymous with the Big Third-Act Twist, and Glass nearly delivers on a successful iteration of that. In a world where superhero movies are so much a part of the cultural zeitgeist that they’re getting nominated for Best Picture Oscars, Glass, for a hot second, commits to the idea that there are no superheroes in its universe. About an hour into the movie, the film lays forth a theorem, via Sarah Paulson’s character, the psychiatrist treating them for their superheroic delusions, that none of them have superpowers – that everything they have ever done can be explained by the practicalities of science and the limits of human ability. I was honestly on the edge of my seat, ready to hold my hands up and go against the tidal wave of bad reviews for this movie and say that it was a brilliant deconstruction of and counterpoint to the superhero movie. And then I realized there was an hour to go, and my heart sank.
I think the biggest issue Glass has is the failure it displays to commit to the courage of its bold-ass convictions: had it found the nerve to go through with this theory, and actually twist our understanding of this trilogy by explaining most of what we had seen away as nothing but exceptional, but human, abilities, this could have been a glorious antidote to the movies that are clusterfucking our blockbuster season right now. Of course, it backs down on that, and decides instead to align itself with that clusterfuck and exhaustedly prod at the idea of a franchise with the closing few minutes instead. They all have superpowers, because of course they do, because even subversions of the genre have to fit into the hyper-marketable superhero genre in this cinematic landscape.
But that’s far from the only problem that causes this gigantic mess to sag under its own weight: Shyamalan’s dialogue still sounds almost comically false coming out of the mouths of anyone but him personally, Bruce Willis’ Dunn feels utterly tertiary to requirements and acts it, too, Sarah Paulson is aggressively wasted in one of the most spectacularly stupid roles of her career. James MacAvoy scene-steals as Kevin, a man with Dissacociative Identity Disorder that causes him, amongst other things, to manifest a cannabalistic serial killer personality with superhman strength; I love MacAvoy in the role, but it’s hard not to find myself profoundly uncomfortable with the depiction of a very real mental illness as monstrous, dangerous, and curable only by love. Samuel L Jackson is probably the only character I have no issue with, even though his “superpower” is being very smart and having brittle bones, which…isn’t? But fine, sure, he gets to wear a purple suit, I guess. The story gets good, gets bad, and then folds in on itself to become even worse, and generally makes very little sense as a whole piece. I would spoil it for you, but I’m not even dead certain on why everything happened the way it did.
Overall, Glass is a movie that approaches something brilliant, but lacks the courage to commit to what could have been a fascinating idea. Wasting an excellent cast with grindingly awful dialogue and a confused, confusing plot, Shyamalan is firmly off form once again with an appalling, galling mess that comes so close to being good – only to throw what is bad into even sharper relief.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Joe.IO)