At The Movies - Broken Glass
By Jordan Bosch
M. Night Shyamalan is not a good writer. He’s not a very good director either.
But much like George Lucas, he has a lot of great ideas bubbling around in his head that he just can’t quite execute well himself. In a career spanning over twenty years, he’s made twelve movies, only four of which (if we’re being generous) have been any good.
Glass is a sequel to two of them: his 2000 deconstructionist superhero film Unbreakable and his 2016 horror movie Split. Unbreakable, the story of the lone survivor of a train crash gradually learning he may have superpowers, had such an intriguing set-up and characters that when Split, a film about a serial killer with disassociative identity disorder, ended with the reveal that the two films took place in the same universe, not only did it better explain the latter films unusual direction, but it actually seemed kind of exciting. So now, two years after Split and eighteen after Unbreakable, we have Glass, and it’s very disappointing as a follow-up to both.
David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has been operating as a vigilante crime fighter for nearly two decades. During a rescue of four captive girls, he comes upon “the Beast”, the most powerful split identity of Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), and in the ensuing fight the two are captured by authorities and taken to a mental hospital. There, they’re treated by psychiatrist Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson) as suffering from the delusion of having super powers, alongside the seemingly catatonic Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a former terrorist with severe bone fragility who refers to himself as Mr. Glass.
Though Shyamalan’s unnatural dialogue and inconsistently aberrant directorial choices are relatively pervasive early on, Glass starts off well at least from a plot standpoint. It establishes its central characters, the conflicts between them, the setting for most of the movie, and the thrust of their psyches being put under scrutiny.
However it doesn’t take long for the film to veer off course, starting with a tone that’s wildly different from either of its predecessors.
This on it’s own isn’t a bad thing, but the fact Glass chooses to abandon the subtle realist atmosphere of Unbreakable and the tenseness of Split for the monotonous look and feel of a particularly cheap and low-key DCEU movie makes it a severely uninteresting movie to watch. It leans way more into the superhero idea than even Unbreakable, no longer feeling in any way grounded as that movie did. The film even seems to attribute Kevin’s split personalities to him being a superhuman, possibly in a vain kind of response to the criticism Split received for stigmatizing DID. And just because it constantly points out every comic book cliché partaken in doesn’t make the movie any more original or look any smarter.
In fact it gets rather annoying. Elijah’s attempts to turn everything into a superhero storyline feels less like the deranged actions of a man suffering from mental illness and more like an Abed subplot from Community.
The narrative is cluttered too with threads that clearly have no place being there, such as the roles of the supporting figures to the three main characters.
The most blatant example of this is the returning Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, the girl who survived “the Beast” in Split. Her reappearance is so bizarrely pointless, as evidenced by Taylor-Joy’s vacant performance throughout, and necessitates a nonsensical shift in her relationship with Kevin. Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard reprise their roles from Unbreakable as well, which was certainly a mistake.
Neat though it may be to see Dunn’s son played by the same actor who played him eighteen years ago, Clark’s not much better a performer now than he was then.
And the old-age make-up doesn’t prevent Woodard from looking around the same age as her apparent son Elijah (Jackson is actually five years older).
Mostly these characters serve to pad out the movie while a directionless Paulson interrogates the three leads. Despite being the “hero”, Dunn is severely underutilized and underwritten, with Willis giving only a marginally better performance than in his direct-to-video fare. McAvoy is still fairly good, juggling his characters’ various personalities and body language without being too over-the-top. But as in Unbreakable, Jackson is the best part of the film, by far the most compelling character, even if that character is quite alien to what he was before. It should be noted too that the broken glass aesthetic of the title and posters has no real symbolic meaning in the film. It’s only called Glass because one of the characters goes by that name and it sounds cool.
All of this is a symptom of a plot that’s not really interested in its characters. Glass is much more drawn to its own universe, feeling the need to dwell on back-stories and interconnectivity rather than anything more concrete like an interesting story, believable drama, and real character development. There’s a lot of clumsy exposition, even Shyamalan’s traditional cameo can’t resist awkwardly explaining that yes, he is the same guy he played in Unbreakable. And it’s all perfectly encapsulated in the ending, which is anticlimactic, a dramatic mistake, an emotional failure, and features one of Shyamalan’s tamest twists, all for an idea devoid of meaning, creativity, and impact. It really makes you question how much Shyamalan is invested in his own characters.
Glass is a movie full of questionable choices, poor if not incompetent executions, and somehow both middling stakes and misguided lofty ambitions. In short, it’s another Shyamalan film, no better than Lady in the Water or The Happening. And it’s disheartening, because Split looked like the start of an upswing for the filmmaker. But some tendencies can’t quite be curbed, and far from being unbreakable, it doesn’t take much for a Shyamalan film to shatter like glass.