More Pretentious (Though Kinda Interesting) Meta-Superhero Ramblings from M. Night Shyamalan
Finally: M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass, the mildly-awaited conclusion to the most self-serious meta-superhero trilogy ever filmed. For those who need background, Glass is the follow-up to 2016’s surprise multiple-personality horror hit Split. And Split had a twist ending that revealed the film to be the unexpected sequel to the morose superhero meditation Unbreakable. And Unbreakable is a semi-successful and fully pretentious film from 2000 everyone had kind of forgotten.
Get ready for more thespian peacocking from James McAvoy as schizoid Kevin Wendell Crumb, aka The Horde, who toggles among 24 different identities including a fussy British lady, a nine-year-old boy, and a flesh-eating, wall-scampering superhuman named The Beast.
Thrill to Bruce Willis’ stoic brooding as rain-poncho-fetishist David Dunn, aka the Green Guard, a reluctant hero who can never be cut, bruised, or fractured but freaks out around water. And dazzle at the perspicacious mind of brilliant psychopath Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), aka Mr. Glass, confined to a wheelchair due to Brittle Bone Disease. He’s also the 19-year-long insane-asylum lockdown inmate who mostly just stares into space, barely speaks, and has the least amount of screen time, even though the movie is named after him. But I digress.
GLASS ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Samuel L. Jackson
Running time: 128 min.
The trilogy’s real-world Philadelphia-set troika are also real superheroes, or at least they are in their minds. And mysterious Dr. Ellis Staple (Sarah Paulson) is here to study and possibly even cure them of what she considers “delusions of grandeur.” For some reason, she has only 72 hours to do it. Which totally makes sense, because that’s exactly how psychoanalysis works.
So begin the Socratic dialogues about the nature of superheroes, their role as modern mythologies, and their effect on society at large. “I urge you to look past the capes and the villainous monologuing” Glass says, villainously monologuing. The characters refer to their own actions in storytelling tropes by saying things like “The showdown!” “Classic turn!” and “This all sounds very familiar.” One of them even says, “Comic books are an obsession.” Yeah, tell me about it.
All the chit-chat inevitably leads to an asylum breakout and a proposed battle royale on Philly’s newly opened skyscraper the Osaka Tower. (A sassy magazine cover calls it a “True Marvel,” in a clear but pretty lame jab at the mega-dominant producer of current superhero juggernauts.) But the three don’t get farther than the parking lot, where they flip cars, growl, and throw one another against vans.
The Alfred Hitchcock of 1999
Tender-aged Millennials might be too young to remember that M. Night Shyamalan was the ersatz O. Henry of the ’00s. Imagine somber slow-burn stories that climax with a cheesy twist. He was like Rod Serling, but with art-house aspirations. Or, in a 2019 analogue, Jordan Peele, but without the cultural impact or the thematic maturity.
Shyamalan’s breakthrough was 1999’s chilling The Sixth Sense, a truly melancholic ghost story with a gimmicky surprise that was clever and strangely heartfelt. There was a brief time when hearts-aflutter entertainment journalists crowned him Hollywood’s new suspense auteur, a 21st century successor to Hitchcock. With a straight face, Newsweek even dubbed him the next Spielberg.
Shyamalan is a crackerjack director of thrills, chills, and edge-of-your-seat suspense. But he’s also a really silly screenwriter. And his subsequent string of diminishing box office successes became taxing for the average viewer. There was 2002’s dopey alien crop-circle movie Signs; 2004’s dumb ye olde tyme monster movie The Village; 2006’s crackpot water-nymph-in-a-swimming-pool fairy tale The Lady in the Water; and 2008’s apocalyptic wha-huh? Walhberg starrer The Happening.
These last two paragraphs may seem counter-intuitive, and completely antithetical to the bulk of the review, but the world is richer now that Glass exists. Sure, the film misses its mark. Yet it’s also so goddamned Looney-Tunes unique that it’s a miracle that a major studio is releasing it at all. Shyamalan reportedly self-financed the $20 million budget of Glass, which is also kind of astonishing.
Comic book movies are absolutely endemic in pop culture right now, and kudos to Shyamalan for being so impressively prophetic in making Unbreakable when he did. The overall execution of his trilogy is screwy, but the themes and ideas really are worthwhile. Besides, name another filmmaker who would be so willing to put his money where his mouth is and complete a story that’s been with him for more than two decades. The endeavor is very nearly superhuman.