Glass (…sigh)

Glass is really a movie that I never expected I’d be watching.  It’s the sequel to a film that I really liked–Unbreakable–which came out a 19 years earlier.  That movie was the story of David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, an apparently ordinary guy who discovered his destiny as a super-strong champion akin to a comic book superhero.

Glass 1

Spoilers…so many spoilers…ahead.

The movie seemed perfect for a sequel, but no hint of it ever arrived, until the same director, M. Night Shyamalan came out with Split in 2016.  That movie was about Kevin Wendell Crumb, played by James McAvoy, a disturbed man who has many multiple personalities, including one who is a super-strong cannibal.  At the end, a surprise appearance by Bruce Willis makes it clear that it takes place in the same continuity as Unbreakable,  and offered the promise of Glass.  It was exciting to be able to get a full cinematic continuation for both Bruce Willis’ David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, the mad genius who set Unbreakable in motion.

However, Glass is not the movie I wanted to see.  I liked Unbreakable and the story of David Dunn finding purpose as a “real life” superhero.  Unbreakable ended before we could really dig into what that was like, and so a follow-up was a welcome idea.  But Glass ends up spending most of its time with David locked up and having very little influence over the direction of the plot, and then dying ignominiously.  It’s an odd story arc that a lot of filmmakers of long gestating sequels seem to be stuck in–see The Last Jedi or Tron: Legacy.  A disappointment after nineteen years.

But that’s no reason to put a movie down, right?  I mean, we can’t fault a film for simply not being the story I would have written.  I mean, unless it was actually, objectively bad or something…

Well, Glass is a bad, in lots of ways.  I’ll admit, it’s good in a few ways too.  But the good here does not outweigh the bad.

Glass 2 Bruce Willis

The movie is awkwardly paced and plotted.  The police can’t find Kevin until they suddenly came, with no explanation for how.  Characters move around and appear in different locations with no particular motivation and to convenient effect.  A huge chunk of the first half of the film is spent artificially building up tension by having all the main characters in a psychiatric institution that has the worse security imaginable.  We spend the whole time waiting for terrible things to happen simply because everyone involved seems hopelessly incompetent.  The result is one “fake out” moment after another, which relentlessly forces tension upon us that is annoying because its so utterly contrived.

Seriously, Kevin is held at bay with a series of flashing lights that blink whenever he gets aggressive.  But these lights are just a couple of meters away from him.  It’s just lucky for everyone that he doesn’t charge at his enemies with his eyes shut, or walk backwards, or hold a pillow in front of his face or something.

And the movie takes forever to get Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price actually taking part in the story, with the movie treating the revelation that he’s faking his catatonic state as some sort of surprise.  It’s a strange choice considering he’s the guy the movie is named after (his “supervillain” identity is Mister Glass), and it’s a poor choice because Glass os the only one who actually gets the plot to move forward.  Really, things pick up considerably once Samuel Jackson gets something to do other than drool–he’s far and away the most engaging character.

The movie is also not told well visually.  There are some clever moments, but there’s also a shocking lack of context.  Tons of the story is told in tight closeups, and there are numerous instances where you aren’t sure how close characters are standing together, or even who is present.  There were bits where I was surprised to discover characters were standing up rather than sitting down, and other places where people don’t seem to realize what is happening right next to them simply because it was filmed in a close up.  Indeed, the film’s major location was a hospital which the viewer is given no real sense of, and until the end seems to only have six people in it, counting patients and staff.

The story is also awkward from a thematic point of view.  Unbreakable had a really cool superhero structure underlying it, which was probably obvious to a lot of people but took me by surprise back when it came out.  Glass tries to follow this up with more of the same, but it’s all much more blatant and ludicrous.

M. Night Shyamalan’s signature thing as a director (aside from awkward storytelling and flat performances) is his plot twists, and Glass features no less than three of them in its last twenty minutes.  They are all a bit surprising but none of them are actually very good, and they all reveal problems that the movie has.

Glass 4 James McAvoy

Twist #1 – Kevin’s father died on the same train crash that David Dunn survived, that Mister Glass caused

The problem here is that its all melodramatic and a massive contrivance, like the worst thing from comic books.  It also highlights the movie’s awkward theme-building. Unbreakable had a really cool superhero structure underlying it, which was probably obvious to a lot of people but took me by surprise back in the day.  Glass tries to follow this up with more of the same, but less subtlety.  This revelation about Kevin’s father, for example, comes up because David’s son Joseph is hanging around a comic shop doing “research”, gets some sort of inspiration to go to a stand labeled “Villains” (?? is it supposed to be books just about villains??), pick up one random and badly drawn book which says something about the parents of the bad guy.  This is just one of several moments where people try to get a handle on what is going on around them based on what they suppose are normal comic book tropes, and all of it is clumsy, forced, and often, badly acted.

Twist #2 – Dr. Staple is actually part of a 10,000 year old secret society dedicated to stopping the emergence of super-powered heroes and villains

OK, let it be said that the secret society that is the heart of the movie’s biggest twist is the most incompetent 10,000 year old secret society that we have ever seen. Their plan is to make the special people believe they are just imagining it, and failing that, do something mysterious to them with their never-explained machine, and failing that, just kill them, I guess.

How on earth could they imagine they were going to convince David Dunn that he was imagining his powers?  Why would the movie expect us to believe that he’d even contemplate such a thing?  He’s been doing this for nineteen years–I’m pretty sure he’s worked out any doubts that he had.

Also, don’t you think they’d perform even the most routine maintenance checks on their machine?  That was a pretty big component that Mister Glass removed.  They ran through the whole thing on him without anyone noticing that not only did they not get the results they wanted, but that the machine didn’t even do the thing it was built to do.

And of course, this secret society–which was woefully underdeveloped as well–have to be held responsible for the embarrassingly bad security of the hospital facility.  Remember that Dr. Staple actually believes in how dangerous Crumb and the others are, but the whole place seems to be dependent on two shmoes who don’t seem to have any back-ups or failsafe procedures.

It might be argued that Dr. Staple was trying to keep exposure to these people to a minimum, but still they were able to infiltrate a SWAT team, and also fill a large Philadelphia restaurant.  Maybe a couple of those guys could have helped out by being extra security guards?

Twist #3 – The parking lot fight was Mister Glass’ plan all along!  He never intended to get to the new skyscraper, he just wanted to capture lots of good security footage and then stream it out into the world so that everyone would come to know of the truth of his ideas that super-powered people are among us.

Umm…but why?  His pretend plan, to get the Beast to attack the skyscraper and get David to fight against him there, looks like it could have actually worked.  And then the secret would have been exposed on live, breaking television news.  As it is, it’s a bunch of blurry youtube clips.  I guess they’ll be really effective at changing the world, if anyone can watch them without getting distracted by videos of cats freaking out over cucumbers.

Glass 3 Samuel L. Jackson

Anyway, like I said the movie wasn’t all bad.  There are some inventive visual moments, and James McAvoy is certainly good at playing his various conflicting personalities.  It’s also interesting to see M. Night Shyamalan just trying lots of new things and telling his superhero story without being beholden to traditional structure.  And I was glad I saw it in the cinema, because it got so tediously creepy for quite a long way that I probably would have switched over the channel if I’d watched it on the plane.

But at the end of the day I still find the movie a disappointment, both as a sequel to something I really liked, and as a coherent piece of cinematic art.  Too bad–I really wanted to love this movie.


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