As the sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s recent smash-hit comeback Split (2016) as well as what might just be his best film, Unbreakable (2000), Glass finds itself in a very unique position as a film, and in many ways has a split personality of its own. In what is now being dubbed the ‘Eastrail 117’ trilogy, Glass is not only the crossover of these two beloved and fairly unconnected films (save for a brief tease at the end of Split), but also seems to position itself as the conclusion to them both.
Despite the other dramatic crossovers and superhero films we’ve become accustomed to in the years since Unbreakable hit the scene in 2000, Glass is a more understated, contemplative, and philosophical piece about superheroes and their place in our world – or at least, that’s what it wants to be. Instead, the film feels a bit like a meandering epilogue to two fairly unrelated films, one that fails to do justice to either one.
None of the film’s core characters seem to get the development they need to drive them into any meaningful change or interaction, and despite the considerable amount of time spent monologuing with them, we never truly get any meaningful change or closure. Instead of driving them forward, Shyamalan seems more concerned with dwelling and reflecting on motivations and backgrounds from movies we’ve already seen.
James McAvoy returns as his Split character, now dubbed ‘The Horde,’ just as manic and impressive as before; whilst I’d gladly watch him babbling through his revolving door of caricatures for two hours, it feels as if the film struggles to find a purpose or a role for him. Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass is equally enjoyable to see on-screen again, and for once Bruce Willis almost seems as if he isn’t sleepwalking through his performance, but by the somewhat anticlimactic finale, the film makes it difficult to care about the fates of any one of them.
Returning side characters from both of the previous films also struggle to find any sort of purpose in the film, seemingly only serving to round out the supporting cast. Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Ellie Staple is the plot’s driving force, bringing all three characters together in the film’s main and practically only setting, a psychological facility dedicated to the ‘delusion’ of believing one is a superhero. This is a core theme of the film’s first half which is quickly abandoned with no real ceremony or resolution, and it never truly holds any weight considering the ridiculous feats we’ve seen the characters perform already.
Glass really does seem split in its intentions. It presents itself as a deconstruction of the superhero genre and some sort of meta-narrative commentary on its tropes, before conforming to them regardless for a convoluted final showdown. The film seems to lose sight of its weighty ideas and thematic questions in favour of a continuing barrage of Shyamalan’s trademark twists, none of which are anywhere near as shocking as he seems to think. In trying to be an unpredictable thriller, a psychological think-piece and a traditional superhero crossover all in one, Glass manages to accomplish none of them to any satisfying level.
Despite its flaws, Glass is a well-shot and well-acted farewell to a unique trilogy, one that continually managed to keep us entertained and intrigued, and one whose existence is an achievement in itself. Even if the way in which it all resolves is a bit disappointing, there are enough moments, themes, and ideas scattered throughout Glass that, despite the cracks, it still holds together.
Image: Jessica Kourkounis.