I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
Published January 20th 2019
Critics are wrong, Glass is unbreakable
Please note: This is a spoiler-free review of Glass, however, there are spoilers for the films Unbreakable and Split.
Director M. Night Shyamalan became a household name in 1999 when his first big mainstream film, The Sixth Sense, was a global hit that impacted on the popular culture of the next few years. Not only was everyone whispering 'I see dead people' for years to come, but the twist ending, which flipped the entire film on its head, had such an impact that for the next five years, studios and directors fell over themselves to add twist endings to many films, regardless of whether the twist worked for the story or not.
Shyamalan followed The Sixth Sense with Unbreakable (2000), a movie which like The Sixth Sense, starred Bruce Willis. Unbreakable was less of a global hit, but still did very well at the box office. The superhero film craze had only just begun, with the first X-Men film (which really started comic book movies taking themselves more seriously and adding some real world elements to them) having only just been released. Unbreakable introduces the concept that superheroes in comic books are actually based on real people who represent a furthering of human evolution. Bruce Willis' David Dunn discovers through the help of Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah, that he is almost invincibly strong and that he can also sense when someone is a 'bad guy' and is able to use that to help protect people. The film was far removed from the usual 'comic book' elements, and the story was more character driven. The twist this time around from Shyamalan was that Elijah, who is crippled and suffers from a rare condition in which his bones are extremely brittle, turns out to be a villain who has caused many of the disasters seen in the movie, and the movie ends with him calling himself 'Mr Glass', the opposite of David. It was an effective movie and whilst not a lot of the general audience would remember the film strongly, the film has often been cited by comic book movie fans (at least those whose experiences with comic book movies don't begin and end with The Avengers) as a seriously under-rated and important movie for the genre.
From there, Shyamalan released Signs in 2002, an alien invasion movie that was another smash hit at the box office and again influenced the popular culture of that year. Signs was a very atmospheric film, with Mel Gibson in the lead this time and whilst the film doesn't stand up too well when any logic is applied to the plot, and certainly re-watching the film does reveal many of its shortcomings, the film did pack a strong punch in cinemas and the first reveal of the aliens, seen through TV news footage whilst Joaquin Phoenix freaks out, is one of the best monster reveals in sci-fi film history.
At this stage, Shyamalan was being hailed as the next Spielberg, which, unfortunately, he himself started to believe. His ego was certainly expanding by this point and it would lead to his downfall over the next few years.
The Village (2003) was not well received by many, although personally, I don't mind the film. But for some reason, in The Village, Shyamalan started to draw terribly bland performances out of good actors.
His next three written and directed films: Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008) and The Last Air Bender (2010) are regarded by many as three of the worst films ever made. Whilst I never saw The Last Air Bender, I did sit through the double dose of awfulness that was Lady in the Water (probably the worst film I've ever seen in cinemas) and The Happening (Mark Wahlberg's worst performance). All three films lost a bucket load of cash for the studios.
It was three years before Shyamalan, who by now was considered box office poison, tried again, with After Earth (2013), which also bombed and was panned by critics. Not even the star power of Will Smith (who was also in a slump) could save the project. By now, Shyamalan's name was used as a term to represent career derailment.
Shyamalan then snuck his way back into theatres in 2015 with a film called The Visit. The film brought him back to the scary suspenseful style that he had worked so well in The Sixth Sense. His name was so tarnished by this point, that the film's marketing certainly seemed to hide the fact that he had written and directed the film. The film was less ambitious than many of his previous films and had a fairly straight forward plot (and a small budget), and it all worked well enough that Shyamalan could breathe a sigh of relief as he wasn't torn apart by critics. I remember commenting that it was quite a refreshing change to not hate a film he'd directed. The film also did okay at the box office.
With renewed confidence, both in himself, and from studios to give him some money to play with, Shyamalan chose to again play in the scary sandpit and made Split (2016), with James McAvoy in the lead role, playing a serial killer who has 23 personalities, who fight to 'be in the light' and control the body of Kevin, until eventually 'the Beast' takes over and that's when really bad things happen. The film focused on the psychological aspects of the character and toyed with the audience about just how real this monster was. McAvoy was sensational in the role, well supported by young Anya Taylor-Joy. The film was scary when it needed to be and was well worth the trip to the cinema. It did quite well financially as well, again with a small budget.
However, the twist in this film was a complete and utter surprise. It wasn't a plot twist as such, but it was one of the biggest WTF moments I've ever had in a cinema. The film concludes with a news report of what has just occurred. We see people in a diner reacting to the news report. One girl says 'this is like that crazy guy in a wheelchair they put away fifteen years ago. What was his name?'. The camera then pans across her to reveal Bruce Willis sitting next to her and he replies 'Mr Glass', and suddenly, the audience realises that Split is set in the same universe as Unbreakable.
I remember completing flipping out on the drive home that the horror film we'd just seen was set in the same universe as Unbreakable. Did this mean there would be a sequel with Bruce Willis in it?
And from there, we now have Glass.
Now merging a comic book/superhero character study film with a serial killer monster movie is an odd mix. However, this film works exceptionally well in amalgamating the two.
Glass is a slow-moving moving film that focuses strongly on the three main characters (with Samuel L. Jackson also reprising his role as Mr Glass). The film is equally a sequel to both films, picking up the story from Unbreakable 19 years later, and Split 3 weeks later.
Willis' David Dunn is still out protecting people, working as a night time vigilante. His son (played by Spencer Treat Clark, who reprises the role he played 19 years ago as a child!) helps his dad in his work as a superhero. Dunn is trying to find Kevin, who has kidnapped a group of cheerleaders, and the two quickly cross paths and David fights the Beast who is surprised to find someone of equal strength.
From this early action scene however, the film shifts its focus and moves into the more character driven drama that Unbreakable was, whilst still retaining much of the creepy vibe of Split. The musical score helps with this, incorporating many interesting sounds into the mix. This comic book movie is not an action piece like most, so some audience members will be left wishing Iron Man would show up, tell a joke, and punch someone into space.
Much of the film takes place within a mental hospital, where David, Kevin and Elijah (Mr Glass) are being 'treated' by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who believes they suffer from a mental disorder and are not 'super human'.
Critics have not been kind to the film, which is a shame, because the film manages to add something fresh and original to the genre which has oversaturated the market in recent years. McAvoy's performance alone is worth the price of admission and the 129 minute run time. Of McAvoy's performance in the film, Samuel L. Jackson was particularly impressed with McAvoy's ability to switch between characters and have conversations between them. Each of the characters has a very distinctive manner and his body language changes so effectively, that you can begin to pick which character is currently 'in the light' before he even speaks. If this was a drama that didn't involve comic book elements, McAvoy would probably be writing acceptance speeches for the Oscars.
Samuel L. Jackson himself is impressive, clearly enjoying being in a different role than Nick Fury (his long time Marvel movie character) and at no stage do we get any of the usual 'Samuel L. Jackson yelling at people' moments one might expect. Mr Glass might be the villain, but he's a good villain that you can't simply dismiss as evil or dislike.
Perhaps Shyamalan's biggest achievement with the film though was that he obviously confiscated Bruce Willis' phone so that he couldn't phone in his performance. Willis seemingly stopped caring about films sometime after the first RED movie was made. Willis is clearly fond of the Dunn character and whilst age has certainly caught up with Willis, he still holds your attention, even when opposite McAvoy at his most fearsome. Willis' career was saved by Shyamalan in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, so perhaps Willis felt he owed Shyamalan a bit more effort than he usually gives these days. That's not to say its Willis' best work, but its good.
Glass has a number of twists and turns, but is not an action based film and is quite a slow burn in parts, especially the middle. The plot is refreshing and whilst it doesn't all work perfectly, with some people unhappy with the ending (I too have a few issues with where the story went), it's something that should be seen and supported as we can't keep just having comic book films filled with bland villains, consequence-less CGI fights and forced humour.
The film ties the three films together exceptionally well, making it one of the most unique trilogies of all time. Imagine if the final Harry Potter film had revealed during the credits that it was actually set in the Star Wars universe and then we had a film that was a sequel to Return of the Jedi and The Deathly Hallows. Well, okay, maybe it's not that unique, but it's still pretty special.