Glass (dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 2019) – Vigilante David Dunn tracks down the mentally afflicted Kevin Wendell Crumb in an attempt to stop his next murder.
The grounded slow-burn of Unbreakable meets Split‘s psychological terror in Glass, a brilliant culmination of M Night Shyamalan’s highly inventive trilogy.
In its concluding minutes, Split introduced M. Night Shyamalan’s most ambitious twist in his long-running career. His latest antagonist Kevin/The Beast (James McAvoy) is revealed to be sharing a cinematic home with David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the indestructible protagonist of his brilliant early film Unbreakable.
At first glance, the two disparate characters in the same universe seems an outlandish idea, which makes Glass a particularly gutsy sequel. And while Unbreakable earned (deserving) plaudits following its lukewarm early days, the bold move also assumed mainstream interest in a cult classic that is by now close to two decades old.
But M. Night Shyamalan’s huge bet pays off, especially when he raises the stakes by going in unexpected directions. Against expectations, the first meeting of the two characters never gets to end in a hero versus villain showdown, when both quickly end up under lock and key.
Clearly, M. Night Shyamalan has no intention to build towards an epic battle, as would a typical comic book film. Instead, his character-driven threequel takes his time to revisit the philosophical themes of his preceding work, continuing to deconstruct the superhero genre through the beliefs of his first antagonist Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson).
In face of the reluctant hero and villain, Glass continues his questions on the inherence or nurture of good and evil. Barring his willingness for sacrifices in search of answers, his character almost serves as a stand-in for Shyamalan, asking, What makes us who we are?
Psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) plays the Devil’s advocate, contending that these so-called powers are but a harmful delusion of grandeur. Yet if this belief makes them more, is it then wrong to dismiss these differences as simply being ill or deluded? Why do we stand in awe of the extraordinary depicted in fiction, but readily dismiss the strengths of the ordinary in reality?
An introspective plot meets a moving resolution for Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), who reunites with her attempted killer Kevin. Their bond comes dangerously close to implied Stockholm Syndrome, if not for their heartfelt empathy on display. As Kevin and the Horde, James McAvoy’s tough portrayal of 20 personalities has nothing on his ability to evoke genuine sympathy for his dominant.
The emotional drama was however accompanied by a divisive conclusion to the trilogy, which involved more than a few unnecessary footnotes. Some sudden, heavy-handed revelations did not work, while others change the very essence of the characters too late in the game.
Even so, Glass undeniably displays high originality and thought that has been rare in a genre known for its trove of tropes. The result is not only engaging in its many surprises. The commentary on the superhero comes off especially timely in this decade, when demigods and metahumans dominate the cinema more than they ever did at the start of the noughties.