The career of M. Night Shyamalan has certainly not panned out the way many would likely have anticipated. In 1999, with his academy award nominated supernatural drama The Sixth Sense, some proclaimed him a new Spielberg in the making but the director has very much lived and died by his own sword (or rather pen). In writing/directing a string of films and becoming known for his twists, Shyamalan has had a most turbulent time in Hollywood, with features like The Village and Signs dividing audiences and critics, while The Happening, After Earth and The Last Airbender made headlines as absolute cinematic car wrecks.
Amidst it all, the talent and bravery of the man is impossible to not admire though, and in 2000’s Unbreakable, this is perhaps displayed most notably. In my opinion Shyamalan’s twist on superhero comic book fiction was (and still is) his greatest film, and has been proved (with the supernova success of the comic book movie genre) to be years ahead of its time and thus still practically ageless. So it is little wonder that in 2016’s Split (revealed in a shocking final scene reveal to be a sequel of sorts to Unbreakable) we had the film that finally brought Shyamalan back to form. And now, Glass proves to be the culmination of this two-decade long journey (much of it self-funded) and the close of his Eastrail 177 Trilogy. So, does it shatter expectations? Well, in a sense yes.
Glass is a film that goes for it in every sense of the term, as it is not unaware of the success of the genre it now resides in/analyses, the film twists the perceptions in many ways of a comic book movie, opting instead for a psychological thriller that toys with the ideas of superhero writings/films (especially the the third act showdown and idea of a comic book universe). This dogged determination to not go the way you think does mean that Shyamalan’s movie, while very interesting and character-driven, does come to have issues with its final third and an end twist that makes sense in an immediate way but feels to clutter the screenplay and may leave some a tad puzzled. It also means that the film ends with a plethora of questions and the film ultimately leaves some of its edges a little less sharp than they could be. That being said, as Shyamalan aims high, the results of his aspirations are undeniably cool.
Like the previous films in the trilogy, the camera work is intriguing and the shots are well assembled, making Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography really stand out, as it is also backed by a soulful score by West Dylan Thordson. Glass looks and sounds brilliant and even for any faults in the story, the film keeps you invested, thanks to the attempts to further the themes of the previous films (and their excellent characters), twist perceptions and toy with audiences.
Samuel L. Jackson is triumphant in his return to the role of Elijah (aka Mr. Glass) and as the masterful purple-clad mastermind, he has the entire film in his enigmatic grasp. Meanwhile James McAvoy continues to impresses with his dazzlingly wide-ranging performance as Kevin/The Horde (a man with 23 other personalities) and expands on the emotions of the multi-faceted character. Plus, Bruce Willis, back as David Dunn, does his best work in 7 years (Willis’ last good turn was really back in 2012’s Looper) as he seems interested in what he’s doing again, after a string of bored-looking and sleepwalking performances. It is also a nice touch to see franchise supporting faces like Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard make great returns to their roles, alongside new character Dr. Staple, played reliably strongly by the always game Sarah Paulson (who even gets a sly little American Horror Story reference in here).
No doubt, there are plot elements and dialogue that could have been tightened up but at the same time kudos to Shyamalan for adding an intriguing ‘?’ to the end of his trilogy where some would just go for the safer route. Glass may be an imperfect end but it is also ambitiously distinctive and thus a satisfyingly apt finale in the director’s interesting 20 year take on superhero comic lore. And one wonders, whether this polarising film will age as well as Unbreakable has…it certainly wouldn’t shock me.