Saturday, 19 January 2019

Review: Glass

Cert: 15 / 129 mins / Dir. M. Night Shyamalan / Trailer

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is being a reasonably successful film writer and director who put out some strong work early in their career then dipped a bit, so that every time they release a film after this, a thousand articles are written asking if they've still 'got it' even though consistency in art is transient at best, impossible to achieve at worst and the critics aren't even after consistency anyway but instead want each film to be better than the last, which is never going to be plausible given the number and range of critical requirements. I imagine."

~ Oscar Wilde.

And so to the timely return of M. Night Shyamalan*1, bringing us Glass, the third entry in a trilogy which only took form in the final moments of 2017's stealth tie-in, Split. That film's antagonist, Kevin 'The Horde' Crumb (James McAvoy), finds himself incarcerated in a secure hospital having been caught red-handed in kidnapping four teenage cheerleaders. He was nabbed by David 'The Overseer' Dunn (Bruce Willis) from 2000's Unbreakable, who's spent the last 19 years becoming a slightly-infamous vigilante in Philadelphia, brushing up against people in an inappropriate fashion then meting out Rorschach-style justice. But outside of office hours. And because duffing people up in the dead of night without the necessary paperwork is the police's business, Dave's been apprehended in the hospital as well.

Which only leaves Elijah 'Mr Glass' Price*2 (Samuel L. Jackson), now permanently in a wheelchair due to the brittle nature of his physiology, in the slammer for engineering a train crash (among many other things) and resident in the same facility as the other two due his belief that he's a super-villain. Our authority figure in this setup is Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who is more of a mind that our triumvirate of eccentrics are in fact suffering exaggerated and specific delusions of grandeur. Are they superheroes or are they just mental? That should be the tagline on the poster.


So, Glass toys with the notion of what it means to actually be a superhero, although while Shyamalan delights in archly asking the questions, he also makes it abundantly clear that he's not prepared to commit to any answers. Landing in the same year as Fox's first X-Men movie, Unbreakable deconstructed comic book tropes fairly well considering that wasn't really a thing at the time. But in 2019, that's very much a thing, and Glass doesn't quite know how to deal with it.

The film essentially combines the cast of its predecessors, with Spencer Treat Clark returning as David's son, Joseph (now acting as 'guy in the chair' to his dad's hooded-justice act), Charlayne Woodard reprising her role as Elijah Price's mum*3 and Anya Taylor-Joy coming back from Split to even up the numbers in having each leading character paired with their 'real world' past. This feels like an attempt to give the story more gravity than it ultimately manages. And Shyamalan expects you to have watched those previous entries in the canon, because there's little-to-no concession for anyone who hasn't. Viewers taking a punt on Glass as a standalone flick are likely to spend a lot of the run-time trying to catch up through scripted inference rather than exposition*4.


Bruce Willis is on solid, taciturn form as Superhero Dave, pulling just the right blend of cynicism and confusion into his performance to sell the character once more. And James McAvoy is absolutely fantastic as Kevin of course, playing revolving host to around twenty distinct personalities. He's the gleefully theatrical chef who's been tasked with creating a pudding that cannot be over-egged. Although much like Split, the main thrust of James' screen-time is dedicated to Hedwig, Patricia, The Beast and Kevin himself. Other characters phase in and out, but they feel closer to a quickfire round on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Samuel L. Jackson on the other hand, is the more interesting player here, as it feels like he's only putting in around 80%, even if the actor's part as Glass is less gung-ho than his other roles. 80% of Sam Jackson is still great fun of course, but he's noticeably reticent in this*5.

As a film, broadly speaking, Glass works very well. It's typical of Shyamalan's preposterous self-indulgence and definitely thinks it has more to say than it actually has, but it's a well-spun yarn nonetheless. But an audience reared on nitty-gritty comic-book detail over the last two decades has learned to read forward, as well as everyone in the room expecting a third-act reveal anyway. And it's that detail where our intrepid writer/director begins to flounder…


And so to the spoilers. No highlight-to-read this time, there are just too many I'm afraid. You read that spoiler-warning at the top, this is your last chance to turn back. The thing is that Dr Ellie Staple is not all she seems. And that's meant to be a reveal as we go on. Except that it's mercilessly telegraphed from the moment she gets Dunn, Crumb and Price*6 into the same secure hospital.

Whereas Price is imprisoned for acts of terrorism and in the special facility for his own care due to his incredibly fragile skeleton, that kind of medical treatment doesn't come for free in America. Who's paying for his? Not revealed, not discussed, not even raised. Moreover, his mum still visits him on a fairly regular basis, so this isn't like some secret black-site where the government will torture secrets out of Price until there's nothing left. Isn't his mum suspicious about why her son is being impeccably looked after in his old age, when Pensylvania State still carries the death penalty for crimes way below the pay-grade of his own?

And then we have David, 'The Overseer'. The police have been after him for some years now, and upon his arrest (when he's taking down Kevin), Dunn is immediately transferred to the same facility. Eventually, David's son Joseph turns up to plead his dad's innocence and ask for his release. But he approaches Dr Staple on a purely moral/sympathetic level, not with any legal challenge. This implies David isn't under arrest at this point, hasn't actually been charged with anything, and also that Joseph knows this. So how has Joseph been informed of this hospital where his dad's being held, and again - who the hell does he think is paying for the treatment of someone who apparently hasn't even been diagnosed with any medical condition by the state?

So let's round out the trilogy. Casey, the young woman kidnapped by Kevin in Split, finds out that her ex-captor is being held in - yes, this same building - and just turns up on the fly to visit him, morbid curiosity mingling with Stockholm Syndrome. And obviously Ellie allows this to happen because she wants to observe the results. Hey, why not just let people in off the street to watch, while you're on? For a secret organisation that's been putting down superhumans for a millennia, you may as well have a fucking flag hanging outside saying "THEY'RE IN HERE LADS".


So when the plot moves forward and Ellie finally lets David touch her hand, that's when we get an insight into her past, and it's revealed she's part of some pseudo-illuminati who hold their meetings in busy public restaurants waiting for the last civilian to finish the cheeseboard while they look at their watches. And again, when we see this it bears all the hallmarks of A Shyamalan Twist™, except that it's been the blatantly obvious solution since act I. Oh, and while we're on the subject, David is only shown up until that point of getting flashes of people's Bad Deeds™. Thieves, murderers and what have you. When he looks into Ellie's past, it's that scene in a restaurant where the waiter is pulling the blind down and she's like "Okay everybody, thanks for coming. Right…". While Ellie knows the group's work is technically unpleasant, she also believes it's necessary and right. Not 'a bad thing'. So why would it show up in Dave's psychometric burst? If this is just going off of things that Dave doesn't like personally, he could end up using his Batman-gig to go round twatting people who heat fish in the canteen microwave at work or enjoy Mrs Brown's Boys. I wouldn't argue with that.

But I digress. At the end of the day, Dave is the only one actually shown to have super-powers. "Mr. Glass" thinks he's a supervillain, but he's just got a crippling disability paired with a high IQ and no morals. Ellie's notes on him even state in huge letters "also known as Brittle Bone Disease". That's not a counter to his genius-nefariousness, just a disability. Similarly, Kevin has a multiple personality disorder, and one of the characters he projects is super-fucking-strong and great at climbing*7. Not like 'Spider-Man' great, he's actually clawing into the concrete to get purchase.

Early in the film, Ellie is speaking to the group trying to dissuade them of their self-imposed special status. And with Elijah and Kevin, she's absolutely right. They're don't have superpowers, they're just clinically insane. Attempts at the science of psychology in Glass come off as cack-handedly as they did in Split. Until we see someone actually performing the supernatural (ie Dunn*8), they are merely mundane. Batshit crazy, but mundane.

When Ellie slyly intones "we can't let them know what they are", this is (for 66% of the subjects) the lie, the part which defies logic and undercuts the rest of the film.


So despite a hinted showdown at Philadelphia's new tallest building, no one really expected a Marvel Studios-level of finale here. But it appears that the budget didn't even stretch to a group of extras gasping from a distance. And as for the coda, where Mama Glass, Overseer Jr and Mrs Beast sit in satisfied awe watching people's reactions to the wasn't-actually-deleted-aha! CCTV footage of yesterday's superhero battle, I don't think they know how viral marketing works. All that video actually is, is a fight in a hospital car park between two nutters while a bloke in a wheelchair keeps shouting "but COMICS!" until getting punched to death. By this time tomorrow they'll be in the same places, totally enraptured by a video of burping baby or a cat being surprised at its own farts.

Anyway, like I said: I quite enjoyed Glass, because I wouldn't have picked it apart in so much detail otherwise.

But seriously M. Night, if you're going to 'deconstruct' superheroes, we're going to expect to examine the pieces…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It's closest in tone to Unbreakable, even though there's far less to reveal in this chapter.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're a fan of the Unbreakable and Split, absolutely.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
As above, yes.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Well, let's not get carried away, yeah?

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
The film's not getting too much critical love, so that's a possibility.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There's not.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Mace Windu's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 FUN FACT: The 'M', somewhat unimaginatively, stands for 'Monsieur'. [ BACK ]

*2 Mate, come on. 'The Horde', 'The Overseer' and 'Mr Glass' sound like crap wrestler names. [ BACK ]

*3 Now, Charlayne Woodard played Mrs Price (great character naming, M. Night) back in Unbreakable in the scenes where Elijah was a young boy, and again with ageing-prosthetics for when he'd grown up into Samuel L. Jackson. The prosthetics weren't great. In fact, they were pretty damned awful, but the movie was a long time ago and even off the back of The Sixth Sense's success, we don't know what the budged restrictions were for makeup. Anyway, we're here in 2019 now and Sam Jackson is 70 years old. A damn good looking 70, but there we have it. Sharlayne Woodard, the actress playing his mum in Glass, is 65. And I'd like to say she's a damn good looking 65, but I'm afraid I can't tell because the prosthetics she wears in this movie are unforgivably bad. Someone's glued lumpy foam rubber over the bottom half of her face but not the top then gone 'yeah that'll do'. It looks fucking atrocious and is an insult to the performer and the audience alike. There. I said it. [ BACK ]

*4 And fuck it, I'm just going to say it. Perhaps the sole exception to this verbal implication is the cameo appearance by M. Night Shyamalan. He's one of those directors who resolutely can. not. act. and so shows up in his own movies almost wearing a t-shirt of his own face with "LOOK IT'S ME!" printed underneath in 200pt Impact. Not only was his cameo in Unbreakable of the glaringly worst variety, Shyamalan also has an appearance in Glass as the same fucking character, who then talks to Superhero Dave and verbally references his cameo in the first film, practically staring at the audience as he does so. Shyamalan comes in for a lot of flak, and I think most of it is unfair. But for the love of god man, stay behind the fucking camera... [ BACK ]

*5 Even more oddly, he gets a "AND SAMUEL L. JACKSON" credit in the film's opening titles. The "&" is usually reserved for a smaller-role in a film by a more well-known actor, almost like a guest star, in the billing pecking-order. And yet here Jackson is, getting the '&' in a movie which is named after his own character. Bizarre. [ BACK ]

*6 Although our leads' superhero monikers resemble a 1970s club-circuit wrestling troupe, their street-names make them sound like a branch of chartered accountants. Fuck it, I'd be reaching for the lycra, too. [ BACK ]

*7 Oh, and since they're containing Kevin and The Horde (terrible name for a band) with a strobe light by the door to trigger a personality-switch every time he gets agitated, why doesn't he just summon The Beast safely at the back of his cell, then wrap his black jacket (we see him wearing this in there) around his head and charge the door? Once he's on the other side he can make a run/fight for it. Seriously, has this organisation really been doing this shit for a thousand years? Because they seem pretty dreadful at it. I think they're regretting putting Ellie in charge of regional operations.

In that bit at the end where she grandly proclaims "And now, with your permission, we can move on to the next city!", does the scene cut before someone raises their hand and asks "Hang on, are… are you the only one doing this? You've been in Philly for fucking months on this and there were only three of them. There's weird shit going down all over the world and you're here submitting purchase-recs for thousands of dollars worth of disco lights, giving them group therapy and fucking jigsaws when you could just wheel them down to the basement and inject them with floor cleaner? Are we paying you for this? Terry, are we paying her for this? Fu-u-u-u-uck…" [ BACK ]

*8 "Oh, but his weakness is water!" everyone goes (including Dave), "it's his Kryptonite!". That's the second time they've tried to pull that one. Apart from the fact that we see Dave punch through an industrial plastic tank while he's submerged in it (so it's clearly not affecting his super-strength too much, even if the tank is worn to begin with), 'water' is the weakness of every land-mammal on the fucking planet. Well done M. Night, you've invented drowning? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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