Review: Glass was very nearly a great film, but in the third act the illusion shatters

  • M Night Shyamalan's latest film doesn't quite hit the mark
  • Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson reprise roles from Split
  • Glass is in cinemas across Manchester now

When M Night Shyamalan directed Unbreakable in 2000, he was the director on everyone’s lips. The Sixth Sense had been a surprise hit the year before, earning an at-the-time 29-year-old Shyamalan an Oscar nod.

Unbreakable was a slightly more muted affair, but those that saw it noted how adept the director was at telling tight human stories in different genres.

Split was released in a different era for the writer/director. Having seen his career fall off a cliff with each new film setting new precedents in how bad movies could be. The misteps and poor pacing in the Village were almost exacerbated with the simultaneously dull and ludicrous storytelling of Lady in the Water, the comically overacted the Happening, the complete mess of the Last Airbender and the meek boring affair of After Earth.

Though Shyamalan had seen a moderate return to form with the Visit, Split was a far more ambituous film coming out a time when audiences were not yet ready to trust the fallen director.

But Split proved to be a big hit. James McAvoy’s performance and the hint of a link to the world of Unbreakable sent fans into a frenzy.

M Night Shyamalan had said he wanted to make a sequel to Unbreakable not long after the film’s release, much to many fans’ delight and sixteen years later when most hope of that was lost, Split reignited the fire.

Glass, then, was incredibly hyped and had also managed to enjoy a long period for contemplation. Unbreakable and Split had both been great, expectations were high, so it is a real shame that it didn’t quite work as a movie.

Scene from Glass
Samuel L Jackson in Glass. Credit: Universal

Glass is a 2019 superhero thriller written and directed by M Night Shyamalan and starring Bruce Willis, James McAvoy and Samuel L Jackson.

The plot seemingly hinges on tropes from comic books; the reluctant hero, David (Willis) meets his match in the powerful and unhinged villain, Kevin (McAvoy) while the mastermind, Elijah (Jackson) pulls the strings. But all three are incarcerated in a mental institute, treated for having the delusion of being superhuman.

The film’s first two acts build tension slowly and all the moments feel earned. Having the main characters and the people close to them question their abilities is a nice subversion of the form and sits well with the previous two films where special effects and displays of power were forgone in favour of humanising the characters.

Glass posits the ‘heroes’ need their abilities to be real to cope with the world. Elijah needs it because otherwise he is weak, David needs it to feel as though he is doing something positive and Kevin needs it to protect himself from the horrors he faced growing up. There are a number of callbacks, some using original footage, to Unbreakable, which are nice touches.

But as well as being able to see Shyamalan’s best in the film’s better moments, the final act of Glass also shows elements of the director that lost his way.

Scene from Glass
James McAvoy in Glass. Credit: Universal

You can tell M Night had many ideas for how to conclude the trilogy and tried to fit too much in at the end. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but suffice to say the pacing of the final act suffers from too much of an exposition dump.

There was too much exposition on a number of elements for the film to be left ambiguous, potentially open for expansion but not needing another film, but there wasn’t enough time given to explore these elements that the film felt concluded properly.

It is not, however, as some reviewers are saying, a complete derailment of the movie. I went in having loved Unbreakable and Split and came out having greatly enjoyed Glass.

The acting is one of the best elements of this movie. James McAvoy steals every scene he’s in, as he did with Split, switching between many characters in his split personality as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Samuel L Jackson also steals every scene he’s in, despite his character’s weak frame he exudes an aura of power and confidence every time he talks.

Bruce Willis is a good counterpart to the other two, by being calmer and more subtly moved throughout. All the characters in Unbreakable that appear in Glass are portrayed by the same actor. David’s son, Joseph, who was a kid in Unbreakable is still played by Spencer Treat Clark, now in his thirties. Elijah’s mother is reprised by Charlayne Woodard, who is actually younger than Sam Jackson in real life. Even Shyamalan who made a cameo as someone accused of bringing drugs into a baseball stadium in Unbreakable reprises his role as the same character who recognises David while in his store.

Scene from Glass
McAvoy and Jackson in Glass. Credit: Universal

Getting three big names such as Willis, Jackson and McAvoy in one film is hard enough, but managing to recruit an entire cast without changing an actor shows the level of care and love with which this trilogy has been made.

One final point to make is that a lot of this film, as with the trilogy is told through its shot composition. Each main character has their own superhero colour, but not made obvious by tight spandex suits and easy to miss at first. David always wears dark shades of green, Elijah favours purple and Kevin often wears orange. The way each character interacts with their space tells you more about them too.

Elijah’s scenes are precise and delicate. David is tidy but does not display Elijah’s maniacal precision. Kevin is always animated and quite untidy.

There will be plenty more I have not noticed from first viewing, so if you enjoyed Unbreakable and Split, watch Glass and you should get something out of it. Glass is on general release across Manchester cinemas now.

Poster from Glass
The movie poster for Glass. Credit: Universal
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