Produced by M. Night Shyamalan,
Jason Blum, Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan
Written and Directed by
M. Night Shyamalan
Starring James McAvoy, Bruce Willis,
Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson,
and Samuel L. Jackson
“Please enjoy the film that took 19 years to make” – M. Night Shyamalan,
Theatrical card prior to the screening of Glass
The first thing that struck me as the end credits rolled on Glass was that for a film that took 19 years to make, it’s more of a disappointing mess than a masterpiece.
In 2000’s Unbreakable, we meet Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson), a comic book art dealer who suffers from Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease that makes his bones fragile and prone to fracture. Believing that comic book superheroes are modeled on real people and events, Price reaches out to Bruce Willis’ David Dunn, a security guard who is the lone survivor in the horrific train crash of Eastrail 177.
Price believes that Dunn’s survival of the crash might prove that they are opposites; Dunn being “unbreakable” to Price’s “breakable”. Price believes that he’s able to sense people’s evil actions/intentions through brief physical contact. With enhanced strength and a weakness to water (the result of a traumatic childhood incident), Dunn dons a green poncho and saves two children from a kidnapper.
The film ends with Dunn shaking hands with Price, learning that he had orchestrated a number terrorist attacks including the Dunn’s train crash hoping to bring those with powers to come forward. Now calling himself “Mr. Glass”, a nickname that was used to taunt him as a child, Price reveals his purpose to be the villain to Dunn’s hero. Elijah is convicted and committed to a hospital for the criminally insane.
In 2016’s Split, Shyamalan introduced filmgoers to Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder and 24 identified personalities, the most dangerous of which is The Beast, a cannibal with superhuman strength and invulnerability, enhanced speed, agility and the ability to scale walls and ceilings.
Kidnapping three teenage girls, including Casey Cooke (Ana Taylor-Joy), a survivor of child molestation, Crumb’s various personalities take turns in taking over his body. We learn that when Kevin was a child he was abused by his OCD suffering mother, after his father departed on a train one day and never returned.
Casey, befriending several of Crumb’s personalities, escapes from her imprisonment. Casey is trapped by The Beast, noticing Casey’s numerous scars and spares her, as his goal is to rid the world from those who have never suffered. As Casey is rescued, Crumb escapes.
In the film’s epilogue, a newscast playing in a diner reveals Crumb has earned the nickname, “The Horde” and a customer mentions another case from fifteen years prior where the criminal had a nickname.
One of the patrons says, “Mr. Glass” as he stands up walking to the exit, revealing himself to be David Dunn.
In Glass, Shyamalan’s final chapter in his Eastrail 177 trilogy, we pick up the action three weeks following the events of Split.
David Dunn and his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark reprising his role from Unbreakable) run a small private security company by day and David dons his green poncho at night as “The Overseer”. With Joseph’s help, Dunn tracks down four cheerleaders kidnapped by Crumb and frees them before their own confrontation spills into the streets where they are captured and sent to the same facility as Elijah Price.
There we meet Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who specializes working with people who believe that they have superpowers. She believes that these are delusions of grandeur are all in their head.
It doesn’t take long for Elijah, like The Joker in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, to reawaken with the arrival of Dunn and Crumb. Also along for the ride are Casey Cooke and Charlayne Woodard (reprising her role as Price’s mother). All of this is being teased as set-up for a third act showdown at the opening of Philadelphia’s tallest building, Osaka Tower.
The film doesn’t seem to have a second act. Much of the action focuses on Crumb in the facility being manipulated into one personality after another. McAvoy delivers the film’s strongest performance, with Paulson and Jackson walking through their parts. Willis not only seems bored, but also appears to have been on set only for his close-ups and dubbing any dialogue for his poncho wearing stunt double. As in all of his films, Shyamalan makes an appearance, evidently playing the same character in the trilogy. Not only is his presence a distraction, but seeing him onscreen quickly pulled me out of the movie.
The thing is, the film is all set-up, with Shyamalan delivering twist after twist with disappointing results.
The characters don’t make it to Osaka Tower for the finale. They don’t even make it out of the hospital’s parking lot. There, Casey Cook, Mrs. Price and Joseph Dunn assemble to see Glass, Dunn and The Horde confront one another.
Dr. Staple arrives with armed men and reveals that she has spent her career preventing the world from learning that superheroes do exist. She and the militia are part of a secret organization who’s purpose is to eliminate superhumans from society.
The Horde attacks Dunn, plunging them both into a water tank. Dunn is nearly killed before the tank is destroyed, leaving a very weakened Dunn lying on the wet lawn.
Joseph Dunn reveals that both his father and Kevin Wendell Crumb’s father were aboard the Eastrail 117 train, leaving Dunn as the sole survivor. Left with his abusive mother, Crumb began to develop his multiple personalties as a coping mechanism, eventually becoming The Horde.
Upon learning this, Crumb crushes Elijah, who dies at his mother’s feet, his last words being, “this was an origin story the whole time.
The soldiers pull Dunn into a puddle where Staple holds his head underwater, drowning him.
Crumb is shot and dies in Casey Cooke’s arms.
The final revelation is that Glass had orchestrated the final confrontation and had the multiple security cameras recorded the demonstration of the existence of superhuman abilities, both inside and outside the facility. Glass had the footage sent to several accounts prior to the facility deleted the files.
The film ends with Mrs. Price, Joseph and Casey Cooke, sitting together at 30th Street Train Station, where they witness the footage going viral.
If nothing else Glass is a reminder of the squandered talent of Shyamalan. There are lots of ideas, but none of them really came together. His ongoing need to pull the rug out from underneath his audience has become a gimmick as the filmmaker tries to prove to his audience how clever he is.
Although the trilogy suggests that tragedy triggers superpowers, Shyamalan treats the superhero genre with a level of pretentiousness and pseudo-intellectualism.
And that might have felt clever in 2000, but in 2019 following Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it just comes across as bitter.
The final shot of Glass is of the the Philadelphia skyline with Mrs. Price saying, “it is the beginning of a universe”.
Not for me.