By Diego Hernandez
I try hard not to be a troll. Honestly and sincerely, I try. Was I ever one or did I ever act as one? Probably, back when I was a child and needed life to smack me upside the head a few times to get me to grow up. Still, my budding maturity wasn't always the result of immaturity leading to embarrassing, punitive consequences. To improve my conduct, I needed models to inspire me, to give me some form that could at least inspire me to greater endeavors, if not give me something to emulate in my darkest hours, The Gods of superhero mythology fit that bill quite nicely, particularly Superman. His cataclysmic fights with other beings of similarly planet shattering power? Those were entertaining and thrilling, if not repeated to a repetitive extent. But the smaller, quieter moments, the moments of Superman's kindness and humility and selfless love, of the most powerful being in the universe catching a distraught woman as she threw herself off of a bridge because he cared about her and everyone else alive that much? Those were the moments of profound, emotional maturity that have struck me the most and that I have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to guide my character. And really, what's the point of superhero mythology, let alone any mythology, if you don't learn some kind of lesson from it that you can use it improve your own life (I take it that Bill Maher, who has again recently criticized the literary legitimacy of the of comic books despite never having read one before, didn't major in common sense). This has led me to frequently ask myself, when faced with difficult situations, "What would Superman do?" That is to say, how should a compassionate, humble, and principled being act in general?
I have utilized this optimistic philosophy with regards to M. Night Shyamalan. Is it really any surprise that after the financial failure of his masterpiece Unbreakable, that his films began to suffer in quality afterwards? Shyamalan was a responsible for a movie far ahead of its time, a work of genuine art that took superhero mythology seriously and not as some Saturday morning cartoon cash cow, with beautiful cinematography and profound performances by Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson, the best of their careers. Could a complete and utter hack with no potential for greatness whatsoever craft such a stellar tour de force? I bore this in mind as I watched Shyamalan's descent into increasingly sub-par films, hoping that someday that the groundbreaking auteur who had given us all one of the greatest tributes to superhero comics of all time would someday return.
That visionary filmmaker returned in 2016 with his impeccable horror entry Split, packed with a smart script, nail biting action, and a twist regarding The Beast that, while clearly indicating that the most destructive personality of the split personality antagonist could not possibly exist in real life, never once challenged my suspension of disbelief. By the time Split's resolution clearly acknowledged that it existed in the same world as Unbreakable, I was ecstatic. The merging of Unbreakable and Split might, I hoped, result in a similarly exemplary conclusion to a potentially fantastic trilogy.
It may not be much of a twist, but the sad truth is that Glass is not that movie. At best, it is an average films with a few moments of brilliance that ironically lead to the frustrating realization that Glass could have been a lot more. Glass ultimately concludes Shyamalan's trilogy the same way Spider-Man 3 ended Sam Raimi's web-slinger flicks: an underwhelming shell of its predecessors.
In Glass, David Dunn continues to act anonymously as the superhero Overseer, eluding the authorities all the while with his son acting as his strategist sidekick. After learning of the crimes of the Beast and the Horde (all of the personalities), Dunn attempts to rescue the high school girls that the Horde kidnapped. Beast catches Overseer and the two fight, but they are caught by the police and a psychiatrist named Doctor Ellie Staple. Staple and the police use bright lights to force Beast to switch to other, less dangerous personalities and Staple appeals to Dunn to surrender in order to avoid harming police officers (Its never really explained why Dunn didn't simply brush the police aside while making his escape). Overseer and the Horde are taken to an insane asylum where they are told by Staple that they are not super-humans but that they suffer from delusions of grandeur and then subject them to her own unique forms of treatment. This is the same asylum that houses Unbreakable's surprise villain Elijah Price aka Mr.. Glass. When Glass realizes what supremely fortunate opportunity is possible, he conspires to team up with The Horde, escape the asylum, and have Horde fight Overseer in public in order to prove to the world once and for all that, yes, Gods do live among men.
While there have been successful horror-superhero crossovers in the past, Unbreakable and Split's merging is ultimately faulty. Unbreakable is a moody, sober, experimental drama; Split is an intense horror-thriller; their combination in Glass results in an unnecessarily bland narrative. In Unbreakable, Willis thrived in his greatest role to date as a seemingly ordinary man coming to terms with his incredible powers and the responsibilities that they come with. In Glass, its as though Dunn simply exists to help move the plot along. This wouldn't be so bad if Glass focused more on, you know, the character that the movie is named after... but it doesn't. This is especially problematic considering that Jackson's character is little like the loud, angry, and extremely emotional characters he's largely known for, and thus utterly refreshing. (Dave Chapelle wasn't really off by much). Price/Mr. Glass is proof that Jackson is a genuine artisan who isn't only able to terrify wanna-be gangsters with made up scripture or yell about such and such snakes on his such and such plane: with his powerful but tightly controlled acting, Mr. Glass is a superb super-villain in the vein of Lex Luthor, his mind so calculating and ruthless that not only does it not matter that he doesn't have the physical power of Superman, but is arguably the greatest threat to the virtually indestructible Demi-God. Jackson does what he can with what insufficient time that he's given (And his restrained, potent performance is one of Glass' highlights) but the under-use of the charismatic, genius super-villain master mind is perhaps the movie's most glaring flaw. James McAvoy's performance as the distinct personalities that make up the Horde is every bit as mesmerizing as it was in Split, but Glass focuses on him too much, resulting in too much of a good thing. Its as unfair to McAvoy that his characters have most of the movie focusing on them as it is unfair to Willis and Jackson that their best characters aren't given the opportunity to share the spotlight.
Not all is disappointment, however. Even if you were to argue that Shyamalan's movies are predominantly style over substance, man, what style! Let it never be said that the man's film crews do not know how to utilize cameras or settings. It is the technical side of Glass that gives me hope about Shyamalan's future. One sequence in the asylum is shot with pink walls, perhaps a nod to Italian horror, and an interesting means of counter-acting an overly drab color palette. And one shot showing Glass' eye and within that eye everything that he is seeing is undeniably cinematic technique at its finest.
Still, all the slick style in the world cannot save Glass from its weak plot and unimpressive fight sequences. While Glass ties everything together... that's about it. Its as if the movie sets itself up for a battle between titans that will shake the very foundation of the world but instead of diving about into the deepest waters, merely wades across the center of the pool. The twists in Glass isn't as bad as some of the past ones that have made the director infamous among his detractors, and while the very last twist is somewhat impressive, the plot twist before that involving the psychiatrist feels like it came out of left field to an unsatisfying extent. Furthermore, while it wouldn't be fair to expect Glass to have the action of a Marvel or a DC flick, this movie could have still done more in terms of action scenes. In Unbreakable, the action was kept to a minimum, and that was appropriate considering that it was chiefly a drama and that Overseer's success saving lives at the end of the movie was shot stunningly well. In Split, the action is of the horror variety with young women attempting to escape from an unpredictable mad-man who is eventually able to transform into a muscular demon that can climb walls, break bones, and tear into human flesh. Overseer and Beast, despite originally being from dissimilar movies, could have still tangled in a stripped down, more "realistic" yet still exciting manner. Instead, the fight sequences consist of Beast and Overseer largely grunting while they wrestle with each other, not much more exciting than watching grown men shove each other. I have seen impressive action sequences in movies with much lower budgets than Glass, and while it could be argued that Glass is the kind of movie where story matters more than action, what action there is drags the film down rather than help lift it up.
As of this writing, Glass has become a hit at the box office, and is on its way to earning one hundred million dollars in America. I can only hope that with this financial success, Shyamalan learns to trust his vision more and to not adhere to the cookie-cutter formulas and tepid, repetitive twist endings that have hampered his career. Glass is a great idea on paper, but upon execution it stumbles rather than soars. If I chose to be a pessimistic fan, I would berate the makers of Glass for failing to deliver what could have been a fitting finale to a unique, original, and thrilling trilogy. I choose instead to ask myself what Superman would do. Like Superman, I choose to hope that M Night Shyamalan, motivated by financial success, will, as we all should, pick himself up, dust himself off, and aim for the sky and the sun once more.