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In Theaters: GLASS (2019)

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GLASS
(US - 2019)

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, Luke Kirby, Adam David Thompson, M. Night Shyamalan, Serge Didenko, Russell Posner, Leslie Stefanson. (PG-13, 129 mins)

After a decade spent as a critical punching bag and all-around industry pariah, M.Night Shyamalan mounted an unexpected comeback with 2015's THE VISIT and 2017's SPLIT, a pair of surprise hits for low-budget horror factory Blumhouse. SPLIT focused on Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a disturbed young man with 23 personalities he collectively calls "The Horde," working to both protect Kevin and contain a 24th, known as "The Beast." Kevin abducts three teenage girls from a mall parking lot and by the end of the film, the monstrous Beast emerges, with a Hulk-like animal rage and a supernatural ability to climb walls. McAvoy's performance was an astonishing tour-de-force and should've been up for some awards, and his work did much of the heavy lifting when it came to making SPLIT Shyamalan's best film in years. A closing credits stinger showing an uncredited Bruce Willis threw everyone for a loop, establishing SPLIT as a secret sequel to Shyamalan's 2000 film UNBREAKABLE, the director's much-ballyhooed follow-up to his blockbuster THE SIXTH SENSE. Considered somewhat of a disappointment at the time, UNBREAKABLE was ultimately a superhero origin story and comic book deconstruction that was made at a time when comic book superhero movies weren't really a thing. The film quickly found loyal cult following and a critical reassessment over the years, and is now regarded by many as every bit as essential the Shyamalan canon as THE SIXTH SENSE.






A lot's changed in 19 years. Comic book and superhero movies rule the multiplex and it seems a new one is opening every other week, with no apparent signs of audience fatigue, so much so that even the ones people hate become blockbusters. The only superhero hit at the time of UNBREAKABLE was Bryan Singer's first X-MEN, and where Shyamalan was once ahead of the curve, he's now playing not so much catch-up, but this sort of analytical, deconstructive take runs the risk of seeming like didactic lecturing to a moviegoing public that, at this point, is pretty knowledgeably savvy when it comes to the medium. It doesn't help that the brief shot of Willis at the end of SPLIT seemed like something added after the fact, and even now, fusing the worlds of UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT into GLASS often feels like Shyamalan is forcibly retconning a superhero trilogy for himself. Set several weeks after the events of SPLIT and 19 years after UNBREAKABLE, GLASS opens with Crumb and his constantly shifting roster of personalities holding another four teenage girls captive in an abandoned Philadelphia factory. Meanwhile, security equipment store owner David Dunn (Willis), the sole survivor of a catastrophic train derailment and a man who's been impervious to injury and prone to superhuman feats of strength, is still moonlighting as a hooded rain poncho-sporting vigilante now referred to by the media as "The Overseer." Gifted with an ESP-like ability to come into physical contact with someone and "see" their criminal past, Dunn, aided by his adult son Joseph (the now-grown Spencer Treat Clark, who played the same role as a kid), goes on frequent walks through the surrounding Philly neighborhoods to seek out wrongdoers, and when Crumb stumbles into him, he "sees" the kidnapped girls. As "The Overseer," Dunn rescues the girls and battles Crumb in his "Beast" form, but when the fight goes outside the warehouse, the cops are already waiting.


Both men are hauled off to a mental institution where they're evaluated by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who specializes in cases of superhero-inspired "delusions of grandeur." She tries to convince them that their abilities aren't real and can be explained away, and brings them together with catatonic patient Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), the brittle-boned man who caused the train derailment in UNBREAKABLE and introduced Dunn to his long-suppressed abilities. Price, an aspiring criminal mastermind and comic book villain come to life who calls himself "Mr. Glass," has been confined to the mental hospital for 19 years, faking his vegetative state to wait for the perfect storm. He conspires with Kevin and "The Horde" to plot an escape from the mental hospital and cause a chemical explosion at the opening of the Osaka Tower, a new skyscraper in downtown Philly.


Much of GLASS deals with subverting expectations, which is very much in line with Shyamalan's recurring twist endings. GLASS offers several unexpected turns in the third act, but even under the auspices of a live-action comic book, it too often strains credulity in both its plot developments and the ways it continues to retrofit itself into the events of UNBREAKABLE. The film works better in its first half, particularly with McAvoy's once-again outstanding work as "The Horde" and in the warm relationship between Dunn and his loyal son (bringing Clark back to play Joseph is one of the best decisions Shyamalan makes here). But once "Mr. Glass" starts putting his master plan into motion, things start collapsing. What kind of mental hospital is this? It's made clear that Dr. Staple is visiting and only has three days to evaluate them, but where is the head doctor? Where are the other patients? There appears to be one orderly on duty at any given time, but there's tons of security guards who let Kevin--wearing a nurse's uniform--just wheel Price right out of the ward. Dr. Staple's behavior is inconsistent, even after her motives are revealed--first she's against Kevin's one surviving victim Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, returning from SPLIT) meet with him, but then says she can't help him without her. Shyamalan doesn't seem to know what to do with Taylor-Joy, Clark, or Charlayne Woodard as Elijah's mother, and the big superhero/villain battle outside the mental hospital is an often awkwardly-shot letdown that allows Willis to pull some of his Lionsgate VOD antics and sit out most of the showdown while his double hides under his poncho's hoodie, complete with some Willis dialogue obviously dubbed in post. When all is revealed and the pieces of the puzzle in place after a laborious epilogue, GLASS just never quite jells into a cohesive whole. It's an interesting idea in search of a point. It's well-made, McAvoy is marvelous (introducing even more of the 23 personalities we didn't get to meet the first time around), and in their scenes together, Clark's presence seems to engage Willis enough to remind him of a bygone era when he gave a shit, but in the end, this doesn't live up to either UNBREAKABLE or SPLIT and doesn't fully succeed in making its case that this should've been a trilogy.






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