Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy, which began with Unbreakable (2000) and continued sixteen years later with the twist sequel Split (2016) is finally concluded in 2019’s Glass.
Once a joke name deliberately mispronounced after exclaiming ‘What a tweest’, Shyam-alama-ding-dong has proved his worth as a director over the years. I can imagine the critical response to Glass will be appropriately split, however, in my opinion, it is a worthwhile film, which raises interesting questions about the human condition in spite of its unsettling setup in Split (2016).
The setting for the film is actually very fitting, given the original film ended with the postscript that Elijah Price AKA Mr Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) had been contained in an institute for the criminally insane. It shows Shyamalan’s foresight with this trilogy, having wanted to make it for over a decade, and that he had obviously been thinking about this movie when he made Split. In Glass, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) track down the notorious villain Kevin Wendell Crumb AKA ’The Horde’ (James McAvoy) and his army of multiple personalities. However, before the conclusion to their battle, they are captured by authorities and confined in the same institute where Elijah Price is being held.
Obviously then, things start to get interesting. We are introduced to Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychologist who ‘specialises in a particular delusion of grandeur, people who believe they are superheroes’. Elijah Price is little more than a vegetable when we are re-introduced, drugged on strong sedatives to prevent his ‘mastermind’ brain from plotting an escape or worse.
The movie was slow and arduous in parts until we finally get what we paid to see, a conscious Mr Glass – Jackson’s character has always been the most interesting character in the franchise. I loved Unbreakable when it first came out, not because of the largely uninteresting hero David Dunn, or his ‘I see dead people’ six-sense-esque son. For me, it was always Glass that carried the movie. Like the supervillain version of Charles Xavier (one of the various iconic links, given James McAvoy played a young Xavier in the X-Men movies), Glass had a fragile charisma. Like the best villains, he seems to embody some dark truth, like Joker to Batman. He has embraced dark facts about existence which most choose to deny. This ultimately makes him terrifying, because the audience fears he may be right. At one point, Mr Glass seems to express this sentiment as he seduces one of McAvoy’s personalities, ‘The Beast’, telling him that he ‘represents the broken’.
We also get a continuation of Glass’s philosophy which was introduced to us in the first film. According to Elijah Price, comic books (and I suppose film) are a continuation of historic myths of Gods and superhuman feats which the human race is actually capable of. Just as the Egyptians drew hieroglyphic representations of their myths, the American superhero myths are a continuation of our human quest for power and immortality. These ideas are not unique to Shyamalan’s mythos and have been diluted through popular culture with their origins in comics like ‘New Gods’, the works of Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and more theoretically in works like Scott McCloud’s ‘Understanding Comics’. Beyond all this, Glass is just a super cool character who is a lot of fun to watch on screen.
James McAvoy’s performance was undoubtedly the best thing about the sequel Split, which in my eyes was thematically somewhat problematic. The cameo of David Dunn in the final twist of the film was kind of goofy and in some ways an insult to the dark subject matter of the film, which involved child molestation and murder. McAvoy’s acting performance continues to shine in the film but is not quite as impressive, and Samuel L. Jackson takes the lead, returning to his iconic role which was clearly missing from the heart of the second film.
Glass is not as intelligent as other intellectual takes on the genre, such as Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen‘ and at times it suffers for trying to be, yet still conforming to many of the more juvenile tropes. Nonetheless, it has a lot to offer younger audiences and adults.
There are some interesting performances from Anya Taylor-Joy as the young survivor, Casey Cooke, who somehow carries empathy for the demented but sick Kevin Wendell Crumb. Joseph Dunn also has some interesting developments, including a scene indicating mild psychic powers, as he picks up a comic book from the ‘Supervillain’ shelf in a comic book store, which gives him a clue to the origin of Crumb’s insanity. If the franchise was continued, we might even be expected to see Casey Cooke or Joseph Dunn return as heroes or villains themselves given these little clues.
The ending of the movie is in some ways a little anti-climactic, and some may find the twists and revelations somewhat ridiculous. Then again, it is just a superhero movie. Mind you, Shyamalan has stated that the film is ‘The most grounded superhero movie ever’. Is he right? I’m not so convinced about that.
Although the film revisits themes which have been explored a plethora of times, there is something in the way which Shyamalan stitches them together which does get your mind thinking.
I do think this film is a worthwhile contribution to the Unbreakable franchise and in many ways a return to what was appealing about the original. Though many will disagree with my opinion on this.
Are supervillains and superheroes real?
You’ll have to decide for yourself.
The hospital where the movie was filmed was an actual former mental hospital located in Allentown, PA.