- Review by Harry Higgins
When a director’s name appears on the opening credits, you often know what you’re going to get. M. Night Shyamalan’s name is particularly predictive. You’re in for twists (big ones), Bruce Willis (probably), and spirituality (pseudo-spirituality). Really though, with Shyamalan, you know that you’re in for one of two things: a good movie, or a bad one. You always run the risk with a Shyamalan movie of buying your ticket, sitting in your seat, popcorn ready, only to come to the grim realisation that the movie you are watching is in fact After Earth. Glass, Shyamalan’s latest effort and the third instalment in the Eastrail 177 trilogy is the former, a good film.
Make no mistake about it though, Glass is a comic book film. It’s about what comic books are about: superheroes and supervillains. The film is also about comic books themselves.
The (super) hero is David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the protagonist of the first film in the trilogy, Unbreakable. He is ostensibly a normal man with super strength. He has been conducting vigilante ‘walks’ aided by his son. James McAvoy, reprising his character(s) from Split, a man who has 24 personalities, is the villain. He has abducted 4 cheerleaders (yes, cheerleaders) because one of the personalities wants to eat them. That personality is called the Beast, and also possesses super strength. What a match these two guys are, we can’t wait for them to have a showdown of some kind. And we don’t have to. The showdown happens at the beginning of the film, but doesn’t get to conclude. It is interrupted by the authorities. One authority in particular, Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who is a sort of placid Nurse Ratched. She deals with cases of delusions of grandeur, and doesn’t believe that they actually have super powers. She tries to convince them and the audience of this. They are put in an institution together, only down the hall from one another in fact. Who else is in this institution? Who else but Samuel L Jackson, reprising his role from Unbreakable as the villainous mastermind.
Superhero movies work best when they don’t get preoccupied with characterisation. The audience doesn’t get behind characters, they get behind what those characters represent: good or bad. Glass is at its best when it stays away from trying to make its characters anything more than two dimensional. Bruce Willis, aging shabbily, wife passed away, loves his son. I know whose side I’m on. But once you’ve made this decision, the film makes you second guess it: Is anything what it appears? The film manipulates you in a way that is satisfying as you start to doubt the super powers. Is the doctor in fact the hero of the story? Glass is at its worst though when it tries to characterise, even god forbid, humanise its heroes and villains. This is particularly egregious in the case of McEvoy’s character. Side note: the performance is bad. The problem is simple, McAvoy is not Peter Sellers. He isn’t even Jim Carrey. He’s like your mate who is good at impressions, and his performance is like when you go to the pub with that mate, “now do a southern belle”. It’s funny, but it’s not convincing. Back to the character thing. McAvoy’s character switches between 24 personalities of varying degrees of villainy. The personalities have board meetings in his head. One of the personalities is a superhuman beast with the voice of Sir John Gielgud. That’s fine, but for the film to then haphazardly say that if only he had been loved by his mother, instead of abused he would be okay is ludicrous. Not to mention slightly offensive.
If you want a slick thriller with superheroes, go to Glass. If you want anything else, go elsewhere.