“Glass” takes a promising start and cracks under the pressure

Glass is one of the most enjoyable mixed bags I’ve seen in recent years. You can reach in and pluck out numerous items worth admiring and lauding across several revisits – true testaments to all the talent involved. Then there’s the other pile, a mesh of head-scratching turns and unnecessary ideas that should be immediately discarded and shamed. Some parts make me want to cheer; others make me want to scream at a wall for an hour. Figuring out which I want to do more has been the great conundrum in determining if I like this movie or not.

Maybe that’s because while the individual parts of Glass can be excellent, the movie, on the whole, suffers from a crisis of somewhat unnecessary expectations. The third movie in M. Night Shyamalan’s trilogy of grounded, deconstructive comic book movies – starting with 2000’s Unbreakable and continuing unexpectedly with 2017’s SplitGlass is a finale that shouldn’t really be a finale. Neither of those two movies exactly needed a sequel, and yet, they all take place in a shared, clever universe Shyamalan has created. For the most part, it’s a ton of fun to watch unfold, while ultimately proving too rush and misguided to end with grace.

The more entertaining takeaways are in large part thanks to the three leads: Bruce Willis as David Dunn a.k.a The Overseer, the reluctant hero from Unbreakable; James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Horde, a tragic figure cursed with 24 different personalities and; Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price a.k.a Mr. Glass, the wheelchair-bound mastermind who pits them against each other. Trapped in an asylum and having their own motivations, all three actors play against each other terrifically, and credit goes to Shyamalan for giving them each distinct personality (or in Crumb’s case, several).

Jackson, though not really getting to jump in until into the second act, uses his trademark cool and confidence when playing the brilliant Price, getting way more to do than in Unbreakable, plotting the next moves and keeping his actions a mystery. To put it indelicately, he’s one smart, badass motherfucker. He rejoins the series with Willis’ Dunn, who has been fighting crime since 2000 with help from his son (Spencer Treat Clark). In the end, I feel like he’s the least taken care of of the three, his story having been pretty much told in Unbreakable. Shyamalan reminds me of Tim Burton’s work in the Batman movies in this way, more interested in the villains than in the good guys. Still, Willis is the best he’s been in years. As tough and…tough as he’s proven to be, it’s great to see him back to playing a vulnerable, conflicted character.

The piece de resistance is McAvoy, once again turning in an awe-inspiring performance as The Horde, as he did two years ago in Split. Shyamalan puts him to the test this time around, with the occasional series of one-shots having him weave from personality to personality. The playground he’s in is endless, from the personalities themselves to the way Shyamalan captures his transitions, McAvoy owns every moment (going full bonkers when he unleashes his beastly villain persona, The Beast) and proves why he’s one of the best, most underrated actors working today. I could watch two dozen movies with just him and I would still ask for more.

Price (Jackson), Crumb (McAvoy) and Dunn (Willis) sit as Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) analyzes them. Good luck, doc.

The rest of the cast, including Sarah Paulson as Dr, Ellie Staple, a shrink trying to convince them what they think are their powers are really just delusions, and returning characters like Clark as Dunn’s son, Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s mom and Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, The Horde’s kidnap survivor from Split, are all good too. But it’s not really their show, and most of them get lost in the shuffle and more act as the human links that ground the main three to the real world. As can be the case in actual comic book movies, there are too many characters to go around.

The story they get to play through isn’t quite as strong as the performances, with Shyamalan more interested in revisiting the characters than anything else. Despite the lack of strong narrative direction, I realized part way through I’m totally fine watching these characters interact with each for however long, with slight traces of the themes from Unbreakable laced throughout. If that movie was about discovering your place in the world, this one is about questioning it. Placing these characters together in a mental hospital was a smart choice, proving a grounded location for this deconstruction of the superhero mythos, but still eccentric enough to feel like it exists in a more colorful world – like a comic book.

I can tell this is a movie Shyamalan wanted to make all these years after doing Unbreakable, and then surprising us all with Split. A lot of the same flourishes in that 2000 movie are on display here, from engaging, unbroken takes to a strong, identifying color palette. This is the kind of work Shyamalan should always be doing, which he sadly hasn’t been for years. That being said, where the movie starts to crack, and ultimately shatter is come the third act, where the director embraces the side of himself that makes your head spin in the worst ways.

Come the action-packed finale – where you will for sure get the Dunn/Beast showdown you’re paying for – Shyamalan can’t help but throw out several twists that bring the story to a conclusion while undermining it entirely. For the sake of not giving it away, I will only say that as he’s trying to conclude a world and stories he has no intention of revisiting he also leaves it open for exploration in the most random, confounding of ways. He goes places he doesn’t need to and, in the end, makes the grounded exploration of heroes and villains seem like nothing but introductory world building. Mesh that in with the fact some character’s don’t get the respect they deserve come the end and you get a whole finale that seems conflicted and head-scratching, leaving things on a complicated note.

Still, for most of the two-hour runtime, I liked Glass as an entertaining character piece that puts its best feet forward. Shyamalan crafted these characters and mostly does them justice, giving them more than enough to do in this interesting little world he’s made. The action is well-shot, the air is tense on more than one occasion, and the three leads are up to the task and then some. If not for the shaky gaps in logic and a head-slapping finale this could’ve been an entry worthy of the ranks of the previous two. But in the end, this is simply an entertaining finale to a trilogy we really shouldn’t have, and by Shyamalan standards, that’s far from the worst it could’ve been.

Grade: B-

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