Late in the third act, Sarah Paulson’s psychiatrist character Dr Ellie Staple let out a blood-curdling scream of frustration in the empty corridor of a mental institution. It was one cathartic holler because it summed up my frustration with Glass. All the excitement and goodwill generated in Unbreakable and Split, washed away in a limp and didactic exercise.
Synopsis: After the events of Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016), the three protagonists are now imprisoned in a mental asylum under the care of Dr Staples (Sarah Paulson). She strongly believes that David “The Overseer” Dunn (Bruce Willis), Kevin “The Horde” Crumb (James McAvoy) and Elijah “Mr Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson) are suffering from delusions of grandeur and their superpowers are manifestations of psychological disorder.
If you wander into a cinema not knowing what movie is showing, you will always know it’s a M. Night Shyamalan film after a while. He has a certain modus operandi that is distinctively his. His movies always have a deliberate pace and they build towards a final twist which you will realise is the whole selling point. He will draw compelling characters and build a grounded story to encompass them. In his better films the twist is earned because you care about his characters, whereas in his weaker movies his storytelling is so heavy-handed that the twist becomes a meh experience. Glass, I am afraid falls in the second category.
One of the reasons why Glass is a hugely unsatisfying affair is that the audience lacks a central point-of-view character. We are dealing with three here and none is developed beyond what we have known about them from their story of origin in the first act. If that’s not the worse, the other three secondary characters, Casey (Anna Taylor-Joy), Joseph Dunn (Spencer Treat Clark) and Elijah’s mother (Charmaine Woodard), who played an important role in the previous films in making the major characters realise their true purpose play such one-note characters. When the third act finally arrives and requires us to see the entire blueprint of the story from their point of view it is a tall order.
For this reviewer, it was an effort staying awake in the second act which felt like a dry lecture. Every so often an expounder needs to give a soapbox spiel on the nature and structure of the superhero versus supervillain arc, and the deconstruction of comics. The pace was heavily bogged down by this aspect. Sometimes I feel Shyamalan is a victim of his own conceit.
For all his storytelling abilities, his weakness is also in staging action spectacles. We have already seen Dunn’s superhuman strength and The Beast’s ability to scale walls, but there is nothing else to see beyond that. The editing of the action scenes also feels lazy and nothing requires us to use our imagination. For all the foreshadowing that was done, the promised massive showdown turned out to be a humongous letdown.
The only joy for this reviewer is James McAvoy’s performance. His ability to switch to a different character using body language and a variance in his voice at a pendulum shift is simply staggering; some would consider that a superhuman ability.
For all that is worth, I just can’t fault Shyamalan for his ambition. His theme of superhuman ability exists in all of us is something I really wish to believe. It’s a pity about the story because somewhere underneath all the mumbo jumbo didactic exercise is a lean and mean meta-superhero story.
Prove it yourself by watching the movie. Perhaps you will have your own opinion.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Written by Daniel Chiam.