Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Spoiler Alert: I cannot talk about Glass without giving away elements of the two films it builds upon Unbreakable and Split. Both are worth watching if one intends to appreciate Glass.
When I heard M. Night Shyamalan had plans to write a joint sequel to Unbreakable and Split I was concerned. While Shyamalan is one of my favourite filmmakers, I had admittedly only seen his better reviewed films, and realized he is a subject of frequent panning. Given the general concern of sequels being profit-and-or-vanity-projects I feared this proposed sequel would undermine his previous work.
I need not have worried. Just as Shyamalan was able to pay homage to the superhero movie in Unbreakable by creating something that didn’t feel at all like a clichéd superhero movie, Glass in no way feels like your typical superhero movie sequel. The path for this film was set nineteen years ago when Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) closed Unbreakable by revealing his identity. Great as that ending was, Shyamalan must have realized that in ending his film with a mere idea, he failed to turn that idea into a story. That’s what Glass is: that story.
[Here’s where spoilers really kick in] Mr. Glass, Unbreakable fans will recall is a super-villain who both does and doesn’t see him that way. Driven to make superheroes a reality, Mr. Glass acts as a super-villain in order to attract potential superheroes his way. He thus sees himself as a sort of Judas figure: someone who is tasked with committing evil as part of a supposedly justifiable bigger project. Mr. Glass of course acted on this goal in Unbreakable, but because he succeeded in provoking the rise of a superhero, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) he is not able to directly express his worldview much as shortly after his identity is revealed, Dunn sees to it that he is arrested.
Glass, however, gives its co-protagonist a chance to meaningfully express himself through interacting with the others. The film re-introduces both David Dunn and Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) from Split. Crumb is just one identity of a many-identitied person (collectively known as “The Horde”), and because a small minority of these identities are sinister (particularly one called “The Beast”), Crumb effectively functions as a super-villain. Dunn and Crumb are sent to a psychiatric facility where they are told they are delusional about their super-powered identities by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). By bringing the authoritative Mr. Glass and the collectively-confused Horde together, the film allows Glass to expressively live in his vision as a mentor figure. David Dunn is similarly made deeper through the presence of the other characters. While he doesn’t react with them as directly, his co-detention with the violent pair puts him on a path of painful introspection. While I can’t say much more without spoiling the film, its explorations of its three leads allows Glass to feels like missing puzzle piece for what turns out was an emotional gap left by its predecessors.
Shyamalan can be a slow-moving storyteller, who seems to find joy in his shots of mundane Philadelphia scenery. Shyamalan’s pace means that Glass‘s seven main-ish characters don’t all get well developed. This is a mild problem for the portrayal of Split character Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), and is more striking for Joseph Dunn (Spencer Treat Clarke) whose mid-film bursts of emotion set viewers up to expect more development of his character than they ultimately get. Time constraints may also explain the difference in Kevin’s portrayal between Split and Glass. In Split Kevin maintains single identities for prolonged periods, whereas in Glass he barrels through them. There are of course possible explanations for this. One is that he transitions between identities more following the emergence of The Beast at the end of Split. Alternatively, he may transition more frequently when under stress. Finally, the portrayal of Kevin as quickly shifting through-identities may be an attempt to truly distinguish his comic-book-esque persona from real people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (Shyamalan’s attempt in Split to simultaneously celebrate neurodiversity, while also giving Kevin a cartoonish dark-side led to some concern that he was further stigmatizing D.I.D., even as he largely portrayed Kevin in a sympathetic light). While this updated version of Kevin is still an interesting character, and the change doesn’t undermine Glass as a standalone work, this transformation nonetheless appears to be a casualty of the film’s time limits.
Shyamalan’s pacing also doesn’t mix well with his desire for big twist endings. It is understandable why some critics and viewers might have found the film as a whole frustrating or its ending excessive. If one approaches Glass, however, as a fan of Unbreakable and Split, it is an overall joy to watch and has a cathartic ending. Glass resonates with inventiveness, darkness and empathy, rendering its current low Rotten Tomatoes (critics’) score a cruel injustice.