Glass,” now available for home viewing, is an excuse to spend more time in the universe of “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2017), and I like that universe, so I can’t complain too much. On the special edition DVD of “Unbreakable,” writer-director M. Night Shyamalan says he wrote a three-act story but decided to use only the first act for that film because Acts II and III didn’t engage him as much as David Dunn’s (Bruce Willis) superhero origin story.
Even considering that “Glass” isn’t precisely Act III of that original screenplay draft — after all, the second act, “Split,” doesn’t include much of David or Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) – this world isn’t as fresh as it was in the first film. That said, it’s by no means an embarrassment to the saga, and it ties things up in a neat bow.
(Click here for a spoiler-free review. Read on for the spoiler version.)
“Glass” starts strong, immediately giving us the big-ticket showdown: David vs. The Beast (James McAvoy) from “Split.” It’s a pretty good sequence for a director who admits fight scenes aren’t his forte, as David does his hero vigilante thing of rescuing four high-school cheerleaders from The Beast’s clutches in an abandoned warehouse.
We also see that David’s now-adult son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), guides David on his missions from a bunker, using a communicator. (Meanwhile, the people who know the other two main characters best are also back. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Casey, the girl who The Beast purposely let escape from his clutches, and Charlayne Woodard returns as Elijah’s mother.)
But this Immovable Object vs. Irresistible Force fight is a paradox that by definition can only end in a standstill, and David allows himself to be brought to a psychiatric center by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). Eventually she’s analyzing him, Kevin (The Beast’s original personality) and Mr. Glass in the same room. Believing they all suffer from the delusion that they have superpowers, she brings up the notion that David struggled with in “Unbreakable” — that there might be real-world explanations for these super abilities after all.
It’s mildly interesting stuff to chew on, and the production design is nice to look at. Ellie gets a pink palette, furthering the “color for each character” aesthetic, and (appropriately, it turns out) reminding me of Professor Umbridge from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
Although we’ll eventually learn why the film is called “Glass,” it takes a long time for the mostly catatonic Mr. Glass to become a functioning character in the action. Once he is, the movie kicks into gear. After all, Mr. Glass is the wild card – not a mere superweapon of Good (David) or Bad (The Beast), but someone so smart he can move strangers around a global game board by manipulating events. And the flurry of closing revelations make the long middle portion of “Glass” worthwhile, although I wonder if these revelations could’ve been more evenly spaced.
The last half-hour of the 129-minute “Glass” continues the trend of twists that have defined this series (and Shyamalan’s career, dating back to his breakthrough, “The Sixth Sense”). In “Unbreakable,” we learn Mr. Glass was an evil mastermind all along. In “Split,” we learn it was a stealth superhero movie in the “Unbreakable” universe all along. In “Glass,” it’s cool to see what happens when someone messes with the super-genius’ carefully crafted, archetypal narrative. Joseph tells Kevin/The Beast that Mr. Glass is responsible for his father’s death (the restructured flashback to the “Unbreakable” train sequence is cool). This is something Kevin/The Beast wasn’t supposed to learn yet, Mr. Glass says – and from this point forward, “Glass” is surprising.
I like that Mr. Glass is somewhat redeemed at the end; Jackson has always played him with a sympathetic air, and it’s satisfying to know I wasn’t wrong for thinking there’s good in him. Although I don’t like that the secret group (governmental or supra-governmental, it’s hard to say) kills David, this action does tidily explain the mystery of how these are the first three superpowered people, and all in Philadelphia. It turns out they aren’t the first three; they are simply the three Ellie’s group is tasked with silencing or eliminating at the moment, and the group has been doing this for thousands of years.
This also allows the “Unbreakable” universe to contrast with “X-Men,” wherein superpowered people are the next wave of evolution – something that The Beast believes he is. He’s not necessarily wrong: These next waves have been popping up for a long time, but they are always quashed by this group that desires “balance.” (“Balance” is so often the dominant philosophy of evil groups in movies. Beware people who tout the virtues of balance or the status-quo.)
The revelation that everyone is impressed by Mr. Glass’ leaked video footage of David and The Beast doing superpowered things is wishful thinking by Shyamalan. In reality, people would dismiss it as a conspiracy theory and argue the footage is fake. (After all, we ourselves are seeing these feats thanks to movie special effects.) That said, I don’t want a downer ending, so it’s emotionally satisfying, and a good message about individualism. And it brings the saga full circle thematically: From the beginning, it has been about what happens when you insert the fantastical into the mundane.
The revelations at the end wrap up a satisfying three-film tale. But in those mental-ward scenes, “Glass” comes close to wallowing in this reality-meets-comic-books mix whereas “Unbreakable” and “Split” gloried in it.