M. Night Shyamalan is a director whose career has been remarkably varied and diverse. His movies have spanned the genres of action, sci-fi, horror, romance and multiple others. Some of his endeavours have been really, really good (The Sixth Sense, Split) and some have been really, really bad (The Happening, The Last Airbender). Much of the criticism of many of Shyamalan’s movies has been that they do not know what they want to be. His latest movie Glass is the sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable and 2016’s Split and is definitely a movie that is not so easily categorised, evidenced by the mixed reviews it has received overall so far. When Unbreakable was released nineteen years ago it met with similarly mixed reviews but has since become somewhat of a cult classic among lovers of underappreciated superhero films, epitomised by its restraint and focus on character rather than action. Conversely, when Split was released in 2016, it was met with almost universally positive reviews and the revelation that the events depicted took place in the same universe as Unbreakable raised expectation for Glass through the roof: whether this was a Shyamalan masterclass in marketing, storytelling, or both is debatable.
Glass brings the characters and storylines explored in its predecessors together in what is a concerted attempt to birth a Marvel or DC style universe, if one that is based more in the believable than the extraordinary. The film begins with the star of Unbreakable David Dunn, played with restraint bordering on despondence by Bruce Willis, hunting The Horde, a collection of twenty-four disparate personalities inhabiting the body of Kevin Wendell Crumb, whom we met in Split. James McAvoy continues to prove what a brilliant and diverse actor he is by reprising the characters explored in Split along with several new ones who were only hinted at before. The Beast, the anarchic, bestial, twenty-fourth personality that seeks to destroy the “impure” attempts in vain to defeat Dunn, finding him to be just as unbreakable as the title of his standalone film suggests. However, before they can continue their struggle, both are captured by a psychiatrist (played by Sarah Paulson) specialising in those who are “under the delusion that they have superpowers” and brought to a facility that also houses the antagonist of Unbreakable, and titular character, Mr. Glass.
The first twenty minutes of the movie which, as mentioned, is dominated by Dunn hunting the creature who has been kidnapping and killing indiscriminately since the events of Split, is one of the best parts of the movie. We are reintroduced to Dunn and his family circumstances after the passage of nearly two decades and his five-minute conflict with The Beast already includes more action than was present in the entirety of Unbreakable. The relocation of setting to a mental hospital where most of the rest of the film takes place, and the conscious slackening of pace is not necessarily a negative thing but for anybody expecting a showdown Avengers-esque superhero adventure, this movie is definitely not that. There is a lot to love about the movie, McAvoy’s performance being top of that list. The method by which The Horde is imprisoned – flashing lights that force him to change personality – allows McAvoy to prove his acting mettle by cycling between personalities at a literal flick of a switch. The way the Scottish actor instantly signifies the presence of a specific character with nothing more than a raised eyebrow, a subtle rearrangement of clothing, or a change in body language is remarkable and overall, it is the quality of the actors’ performances that raises Glass to a higher plane than many similar films in the genre. The presence of such an A-List cast, which not only includes Willis, McAvoy, Paulson and Samuel L. Jackson but also sees Anya-Taylor Joy reprise her role from Split as Casey, is undoubtedly one of the biggest potential draws this movie possesses and is something that the marketing has been carefully tailored to promote. While McAvoy’s performance is mesmerising, and Jackson’s is excellent once his character decides to actively participate in proceedings, Glass also represents something of a return to form for Bruce Willis, who has been somewhat absent from our screens in any meaningful sense since his 90s and early 00s heyday. Shyamalan and Willis obviously have a good working relationship, having collaborated on The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and the director seems to be uniquely able to coax out the kind of world-weary, man-of-few-words, reluctant hero performance at which Willis excels. There has been some criticism of Glass based on the fact that it does not give enough screen-time to Dunn but for me this was not an issue, the movie focussed well on the motivations and backstories of each character (with extensive use of flashbacks, which are almost all both insightful and impactful) while still keeping things moving at a reasonable pace.
Glass would not be a Shyamalan movie without a twist at the end and it is this that, for me personally, raises perhaps the biggest problem the film possesses. While I struggled to think of a way the movie could have otherwise ended, I was left feeling slightly let down by the direction it chose to take. There was a conscious effort, as I have already mentioned, to engender the idea of a sequel or sequels by expanding the universe, and it felt somewhat as if Shyamalan’s desire to create a dynasty took over from the importance of delivering a successful conclusion to his original trilogy of films. While Mr. Glass’s assertion that “this was not a Limited Edition, this was an origin story” is a meta reference to the director’s attempt to expand his creation’s scope, and is perhaps a subtly included attempt to justify this decision, overall I was left with the impression that perhaps maybe a less ambitious conclusion might have been more appropriate in the circumstances – whether Shyamalan actually gets to make his sequels will depend massively on funding and consumer appetite for such a venture; appetite which, after the dramatic conclusion of Glass, I’m not sure will be there. Overall, Glass is definitely worth the ticket price, it is intelligent, thoughtful, makes you feel empathy for characters both good and bad and features some very impressive acting performances but is never able to quite escape the feeling that it may have benefitted from the influence of a director or producers without so much personal attachment to the world he has worked so hard to create.