Glass (2018) Review: Frustratingly Imperfect
After almost 20 years the story that began at the start of the millenia has come to a close. ‘Glass’ concludes what began in 2000’s ‘Unbreakable’, and continued in 2017’s ‘Split’. This time reuniting the characters of David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, and Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson, each now going by ‘The Overseer’, and ‘Mr. Glass’ as their superhuman moniker. In the middle, there’s James McAvoy as ‘The Horde’ whose multiple personalities pose a threat to the civilian population, particularly ‘The Beast’.
If ‘Unbreakable’ is a family drama disguised as a superhero movie, and ‘Split’ is a horror flick disguised as a superhero movie, then ‘Glass’ is a psychological thriller. It poses a central question to the viewer. Do these people actually have abilities, or are they the victims of psychological delusions? The way it plays with this idea is intriguing and compelling, and under some incredible direction. M Night Shyamalan may not have the best track record, but his ability behind the camera is well thought out, massively creative, and a testament to the craft.
When it comes to the writing? Not so much. ‘Glass’ has some incredible direction and acting, but it seriously falters in the writing department. For a film that’s taking a fantastic idea like superheroes and breaking it down for the real world, the characters can sound remarkably cartoonish. A scene can be composed beautifully with some of the best cinematography of Shyamalan’s entire career, but because the characters are delivering clunky dialogue about the nature of comic books, you’re taken out the film.
It’s especially frustrating when the actors are mostly bringing their A-game. Samuel L. Jackson has the least to do in the film and he makes the most of every scene he’s in despite being limited. In a lot of scenes, he does little more than stare, but does so with frightening intensity. On the other hand you have the much less subdued James McAvoy who at one point feels like he’s performing at an improv theatre and the audience is trhowing out characters for him to bring to life. McAvoy still can convince you that he’s multiple different characters when he gets the chance to delve into them, but when he rapidly switches from one personality to the next, it feels like a carnival trick committed to film.
The biggest sin is with the character of Casey. The survivor of ‘Split’ returns in ‘Glass’ as a pseudo Betty Ross to the Horde’s hulking Beast. As someone who was presented as a survivor of abuse and trauma, I found it particularly hard to swallow that she would put herself in this position. I’m not one to argue with how a film chooses to present its characters. Certainly if M. Night wants to show Casey and Kevin as having Kinship over trauma, that’s fine, but it has to be done with conviction. It’s not enough to say the characters just are, the audience needs to be convinced of that. Sometimes the character arcs are woven intricately with the story. Other times they’re inconsistent, which does nothing but take you away from the elements of the movie that are much more polished.
Those polished moments come from the way the film is able to bring across what it has to say. Even if those messages are less than poignant, you have to admire the way its done. There’s subtext to the direction from the way the characters dress to how the camera behaves around each of them. Much like a comic book, each of the heroes have a specific colour to them. Mr. Glass is purple, the Horde is yellow, and The Overseer is green. The film uses this coordination in intriguing ways that make for a satisfying visual experience. One that modern superhero films could learn from with their obsession with desaturation and muted palettes.
‘Glass’ is a movie that has good ideas. It knows how to show them, but not how to talk about them. If it were a silent movie, it would win an Oscar. Fans of ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Split’ will no doubt enjoy as ‘Glass’ takes the best elements of both those films and manages to make a satisfying end to the would be trilogy. It’s only a shame that it’s held back from reaching its full potential.