M. Night Shyamalan fully embraces the superhero genre with Glass, a sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable and 2017’s Split that gleefully brings the comic book lore of its predecessors to the forefront.
Indeed, nuance and subtext are not among this film’s strongest qualities, but as an earnest, all-out depiction of what superpowers might look like in the real world, it succeeds more often than it doesn’t.
Working with a relatively modest $20 million budget — a tenth of what Marvel typically spends on such fare — Shyamalan wisely keeps the action and settings small-scale to thoroughly investigate what makes these superhuman characters tick.
Bruce Willis reprises his Unbreakable role as David Dunn, a security guard who has since become a vigilante hero named The Overseer since discovering his superpowers. He inevitably crosses paths with Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), the kidnapper from Split with multiple personalities who is able to conjure a powerful alter named The Beast. After the two are caught post-showdown, they are brought to a mental hospital where Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is determined to convince them, as well as Dunn’s previous foe Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), that they are just ordinary people who have delusions of grandeur.
In a world where blockbuster comic book movies seem to come out every month, Glass serves as a nice counterpoint to the largely homogeneous product that tends to populate the market these days. Despite falling victim to uneven pacing and distractingly on-the-nose dialogue, the film has a heart and personal vision behind it that feels absent from even the best of Hollywood’s superhero offerings.
Like last month’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it also has a reverence for comic book culture that has seemingly been lost during the film industry’s commoditization of the superhero genre.
Shyamalan’s script sometimes strains too hard when making connections to the other two films in the Eastrail Trilogy, but in more ways than one, Glass often feels like a worthy conclusion to the grand narrative. It’s difficult to imagine Shyamalan had this film in mind when he was making Unbreakable 20 years ago.
Even though the two are still tonally incongruous, their connective tissue now feels undeniable. Shyamalan’s smartest storytelling decision here is his inclusion of secondary human characters from previous films, whose ties to their respective superhuman characters make for naturally high stakes that keep us invested in the story.
The performances from the ensemble cast, which also includes Split’s Anya Taylor-Joy and Unbreakable’s Spencer Treat Clark, make this mini-universe of heroes and villains that much more believable. Jackson and Willis do a terrific job of resurrecting characters that have laid dormant for quite some time, while McAvoy brings an extra level of dedication to an already challenging role by seamlessly switching between disparate personalities at the drop of a hat.
Glass may have mixed results with the cult following that has surrounded Unbreakable, but those looking for a change-up to the typical comic book formula could be pleasantly surprised.
Coming to theaters this weekend
The Kid Who Would Be King, starring Ashbourne Serkis and Patrick Stewart, follows a young boy who sets out on a medieval quest after he discovers King Arthur’s famous Excalibur sword.
Serenity, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, is a neo-noir thriller in which a fishing captain is approached by his ex-wife to murder her new
Stan & Ollie, starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, depicts the later years of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy as they commit to an expansive theater tour in Britain as an attempt to revive their film careers.
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