Superhero films have been, and continue to, dominate Hollywood right now, but not when M. Night Shyamalan made his own take on the genre: Unbreakable. It was an interesting approach to the superhero genre, one that deconstructed the concept in a grounded dramatic narrative. Glass, the final installment of the trilogy that began with Unbreakable, offers audiences only a shadow of that great film.
Glass has been advertised as a superhero crossover film of sorts, bringing together the characters of Unbreakable and Split in a psychological thriller, in a film where reality isn’t what it seems. Each character has the nature of their special abilities questioned, making them ponder how the most traumatic moments in their childhood impacted the present.
It is this last point where the film has some depth, with Shyamalan’s script deconstructing the concept of the superhero – from its origins to how they are perceived in the present. That metafictional element runs through the first half of the film, which is both entertaining and fascinating in its subversion of Hollywood’s favourite blockbuster phenomenon. To that effect, Shyamalan writes scenes with a familiar set up to standard superhero fare, but the follow through always takes the story in unexpected directions.
Beyond these elements, Glass also has a great focus on character in the first half of its runtime. The exploration of the psychological background of superheroes, specifically the impact of their formative years, is the most compelling part of the film’s first and second act. This aspect of the story is supported by great performances from the film’s cast. James McAvoy’s portrayal of serial killer Kevin Wendell Crumb shows the same acting range from Split; with each separate personality feeling like a living, breathing person. His fellow villain Mr. Glass is an excellent performance by Samuel L. Jackson, who has a very strong on-screen presence. Placed in opposition to them is Bruce Willis’ returning hero from Unbreakable: David Dunn. The actor gives a beautifully understated performance, but Willis’ character is largely sidelined due to the novelty of a supervillain team-up. This is the first indicator of when the film’s quality begins to decline.
Glass falls apart in its second and third acts because the tropes that the film wants to explore ultimately engulf the feature in mediocrity. The psychological elements and the reimagining of the superhero/supervillain dynamic are undermined by baffling plot twists and an underwhelming conclusion.
Glass, as a result, becomes a completely different film in the third act, shifting from the subtle storytelling of Unbreakable to the generic superhero stories Mr. Glass is obsessed with. This shift, from a subversive story to a more traditional superhero film, undermines the power of act one and in turn weakens the film as a whole.
Despite any deficiencies that can be found in the script, Shyamalan brings a great visual style to Glass. The decisions Shyamalan makes as director build on the film’s larger themes, similar to how he approached Unbreakable. The superhero/supervillain dichotomy is again represented using defining colors, each associated with a particular character.
Shots are meticulously composed and are visually pleasing to the eye. The editing in Glass creates a very uneasy atmosphere throughout the film’s entirety which allows the audience to further connect with the characters as their reality seems to fall apart. Lastly, the fight scenes are well choreographed, beginning with the posturing inherent to the superhero genre, but with an actual battle that feels brutal and grounded in reality.
Glass is not a terrible movie, but the fragments of brilliance can’t save it from an awkward narrative shift. A very unsatisfying ending to an otherwise good film trilogy.