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Film Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass”

Shyamalan’s meta-superhero trilogy loses traction in its final chapter

Walking the fine line between fantasy and reality is a daunting feat for any filmmaker, and unfortunately, M. Night Shyamalan does not fulfill either aspect. Like its parent films Unbreakable and Split, Glass strips away the glamour of superpowers and blurs the distinction between hero and villain, but this third outing doesn’t deliver its premise with the same allure that made its predecessors so successful.

The film centres on three superhumans in the real world, where no such people should exist. There’s Kevin Wendell Crumb, a.k.a. The Horde (James McAvoy), who grapples with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and is now able to summon on command his most dangerous personality, The Beast. Then we have the nearly indestructible David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who now acts as a vigilante crime fighter, while his mastermind nemesis Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) remains in lockup. Psychiatrist Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) attempts to cure the trio’s superhero “delusions” after they’re institutionalized, at which point mediocrity ensues.

Glass does a decent job of catching up unfamiliar viewers without pandering to them: it employs multiple flashbacks with new footage taking advantage of Willis’s inability to age (the actor’s real life superpower). But of course, you’ll be less confused throughout if you’ve seen the movie’s predecessors.

This time around, Shyamalan spares his camera operators the acrobatics and opts for more sophisticated shots, toying with reflections and shifting focus. Despite the audience’s lack of motion sickness, it’s still very evident that this is still evidently a textbook Shyamalan movie that’s as fun to look at as it is to poke holes in.

McAvoy once again steals the show as the multiple-personality-wielding criminal, acting circles around even his acclaimed co-stars. He displays previously unseen personalities, as well as the classics we hate to love and love to hate. The actor’s ability to transform his voice, attitude, and mannerisms on a dime is truly astounding.

But the others bring their own special brands of dullness — Jackson from his shortage of dialogue and Willis from his shortage of, well, effort. Even the highly anticipated scene of the psychiatrist confronting all three at once is a letdown. What should be a mind-bending and monumental conversation is actually little more than a condescending Staple belittling them one by one.

The film is about half an hour too long while still spending a lot of time in stasis, twiddling its thumbs in anticipation of the next far-fetched revelation to advance the already choppy plot. The first act is undoubtedly the most interesting. I found myself wishing that the rest of the film focused on Dunn’s pursuit of the elusive Horde. But alas, they are subdued and forced into the uninspiring main plot.

What made Split and Unbreakable so great was their transcendence of the superhero genre: how they effectively integrated extraordinary characters into an ordinary world, redefining what it means to be unique. Where Glass falls short is in its tendency to rely on common superhero tropes. It sacrifices its ingenuity for something the audience is already accustomed to, or in today’s superhero renaissance, tired of. The action is slow-paced and short-lived, there is a fierce lack of suspense, and the latest in a long line of twist endings winds up being a little less Sixth Sense and a little more Signs. In short, Glass is anything but bulletproof.

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