“Glass” is the latest feature from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan and is the long-anticipated conclusion to his “Eastrail 177” trilogy that started in 2000 with “Unbreakable” and continued in 2017 with “Split.” The latter is what many critics considered a return-to-form for the filmmaker, after almost 10 years of critically lamented box office failures (with the notable exception of 2015’s “The Visit”).
Picking up fifteen years after the events of “Unbreakable” and not long after the events of “Split,” the story follows both David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the hooded, crime-fighting vigilante from “Unbreakable,” and The Beast, a monstrous personality buried within the psyche of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), who are both brought to a mental hospital that also houses Elijah Price / Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book enthusiast-turned-enemy of the state with brittle bone syndrome.
Since I am aware that not everyone who sees “Glass” has the same benefit of watching “Unbreakable” and “Split” beforehand, my objective with this review is not only to describe what I liked about the film, but also why many critics are responding so negatively to it. After finally seeing the movie myself, I can totally understand why. Outside of some personal gripes from my initial viewing, however, I would still absolutely recommend seeing “Glass” in theaters if the film sounds at all interesting to you.
Regarding “Glass,” Shyamalan proves once again why he is one of the best filmmakers of his generation. Mike Gioulakis, the cinematographer from “Split,” returns and brings more amazing visuals to yet another Shyamalan film. Where Gioulakis made the locations in “Split” feel confined and claustrophobic, he makes the smaller areas in “Glass” feel dynamic and larger-than-life, while Shyamalan keeps the drama intimate and real. In fact, every frame of this film is so well-crafted that even harsher critics can at least appreciate it from a filmmaking perspective. And yes, there is more action here than in “Unbreakable” but, as well-made as those set pieces are, they are rather scarce in numbers, so don’t go in thinking that “Glass” is more of an action movie than a drama. Speaking of well-made, the film’s estimated budget is only $20 million yet the production values on display are indistinguishable, if not better, than most modern superhero movies, which further emphasizes that not every filmmaker needs over $100 million to make a good movie.
In terms of music, West Dylan Thordson reteams with Shyamalan for “Glass” and his arrangements mostly create the same suspense that they created in “Split,” while other arrangements inject varied emotions into scenes, which helps separate this film from its two predecessors. The music in “Glass” also takes cues from Thordson’s “Split” theme, as well as James Newton Howard’s iconic “Unbreakable” score and places them in scenes where they would feel appropriate. Moreover, the obvious and not-so-obvious references to “Unbreakable” and “Split” did not bother me because they do not feel pandering.
In terms of acting and character development, everyone in “Glass” mostly brings their A-game. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson continue to give restrained and believable performances as older versions of their respective characters David Dunn and Elijah Price, with Jackson once again stealing the show because, despite his physical impediments, Price is still as unpredictable as ever. Several critics have mentioned that they are upset with Dunn’s role in the film, but I did not mind it as much, and I won’t say why to avoid potential spoilers. Another obvious standout in “Glass” is James McAvoy as Kevin, the man with 24 personalities. Whereas McAvoy only depicted seven personalities in “Split,” he portrays closer to 20 in “Glass.” He continues to make each personality feel different, proving yet again how extremely talented an actor McAvoy is. Even the supporting cast of this film delivers some rather memorable performances. Anya Taylor-Joy returns as Casey Cooke from “Split,” while Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard reprise their roles from “Unbreakable” as older versions of David’s son Joseph and Elijah’s mother Mrs. Price. Their roles are not simply fan service, and all have at least one emotional moment with the main characters they are associated with. Sarah Paulson is the latest addition to this trilogy as Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist who tries to convince the three main characters that their superpowers are simply delusions of grandeur. I won’t say too much else about her role except that it fits with the film thematically.
For fear of spoilers, I will use this writing section to talk primarily about the third act, since that is the point of contention between fans and critics. Now, I can understand both sides of the argument and how some fans who have followed this franchise since the beginning could find this ending problematic. I, however, thought the ending was immensely satisfying and caught me so off-guard in a way that only Shyamalan can. It’s a terrific way to cap off this trilogy and hammer home the themes and messages that Shyamalan has set up for almost 19 years. More surprisingly, this ending gave me a certain sense of euphoria as I left the theater because of how inspired I felt as the credits began to roll.
As I begin to wrap up this review, I want to briefly touch on a widespread issue that is hurting both professional film criticism and (to some extent) fan culture, which is the idea of “Expectations vs Reality.” A common theme that I notice among harsher critics (professional or otherwise) is that the movie is not at all what they wanted from a sequel to both “Unbreakable” and “Split.” Renowned YouTube film critic Chris Stuckmann, a self-proclaimed Shyamalan supporter admitted in his initial “Glass” review that he had absolutely no problem with the direction that the film ultimately takes and made some purely subjective complaints about the music that I could not disagree with more. The idea that critics and fans may look down upon a movie that “doesn’t give them what they wanted” could possibly cause major studios such as Disney and Warner Bros. from preventing creative and talented filmmakers (such as Rian Johnson and Denis Villeneuve) from making more director-driven movies, in the vein of The Last Jedi and Blade Runner 2049. It may also hurt Jason Reitman’s recently announced “Ghostbusters” sequel, because even if it does give dedicated fans of that franchise what they want, they will still most likely respond similarly to the female-led “Ghostbusters” remake from 2016.
I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe as much as the next guy but, at the same time, I am so happy that Shyamalan could successfully put his uncompromising vision on-screen while keeping his intentions extremely personal with “Glass.” Where “Unbreakable” was released before the comic book movie boom officially kicked off with Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film in 2002, “Glass” serves as an antithesis to the subgenre that still shows deep appreciation for the medium that birthed it. Some of the more analytical Shyamalan fans could even look at this trilogy as an allegory for the three phases of his career: “Unbreakable” represents Shyamalan’s rude awakenings as “The Next Spielberg,” “Split” represents when the general public began to turn on him, and “Glass” represents Shyamalan proving to the world that he never truly “left” as a filmmaker.
Although not perfect, “Glass” is a truly special film that I would absolutely recommend seeing in theaters and cannot wait to see again—hopefully in IMAX this time. Fans of both “Unbreakable” and “Split” will most likely enjoy this film, while less-seasoned fans who are remotely interested should go and decide for themselves. This film deserves all the money it’s making, and I sincerely hope that it opens more doors for not only Shyamalan but everyone involved with the production of this film.