In the trilogy capper of the "Eastrail 177 Trilogy" (or the Unbreakable trilogy, if you prefer), David Dunn (Bruce Willis, Unbreakable), Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy, Split), and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson, Unbreakable) find themselves locked together in an asylum, now wards of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story), whose mission is to convince them their superhuman beliefs are mere delusions of grandeur. Meanwhile, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy, Split), Joseph Dunn (Spencer Treat Clark, Unbreakable), and Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard, Unbreakable) try to convince the system that their friends and family are as special as they say they are.
Of course, being a Shyamalan movie, there is more to it than that.
Based on the marketing and the films it follows, one would expect this to be a thrilling showdown between the players. After all, Unbreakable is a gripping web of mysteries. Split is an involving bottle thriller. But while there are shades of these thrills in Glass, Shyamalan elects to make more of a statement through his story.
In fact, he dunks his characters into their lowest points. We briefly see David Dunn and The Horde at the high we left them at in the previous films. There are suitable confrontations, sure, but we see these grounded superhumans often limited. The Horde is not often scary. The Overseer is not unbreakable. Mr. Glass is virtually catatonic.
And if this was a showdown movie, that would be fairly disappointing. But this is not that kind of story.
Rather, this is a story about the hidden human potential that the world tries to suppress. It's a morale we've heard multiple times, especially in the movies that open with a castle logo, but that's how we create a mythology: we repeat these stories to ourselves, variations on a theme, and they teach us. They reveal us. We see ourselves in the stories of the superhuman.
In red tights, our unwavering sense of good despite the countering darkness of the world.
In black armor and a utility belt, our access to the darkness.
In the webs, our need to be something bigger when we feel so small.
M. Night's thesis is that our gifts are special and worth harnessing to their greatest potential. We need a lens through which to focus them. And in the case of Glass, it offers a new lens through which to view what's come before.
Of course, the immorality of Elijah's actions makes his demonstrations of this theme complex. They are great intentions with terrible means. People die because of him, and he deceives his allies to see his plans to the end, whether they're on board with them or not. But to him, the unjust suppression of fulfilling our purpose is the greater sin.
Now, I don't want to leave you with the impression that this is a merely a philosophical flick with no excitement.
Several action sequences with the Beast are creatively done. Shyamalan also heavily utilizes POV shots, which detached me from Crimes of Grindelwald but created a kind of intimacy here. They're overused and make some fight scenes awkward, as if to hide the smaller budget, but they're often effective. At the very least, it's a big swing that might interest you as a viewer.
The performances are also well done here. Bruce Willis, while not utilized as often as I might want, still feels like David Dunn from 2000. James McAvoy, while not as unsettling as before or given enough time to completely develop new personalities, still brings his all, a clear arc each for Dennis, Patricia, and, surprisingly, Kevin. Sam Jackson, when finally allowed to be the Mr. Glass we know and love, doesn't miss a beat.
The true stand-out, though, is Anya Taylor-Joy, who once again has a powerful chemistry with James McAvoy, while still upping her game from the previous film (which she was fantastic in, too!). Though the movie is called Glass, I thought her story with the Horde was the key piece of this puzzle and always the best part. Split fans will not be disappointed with the evolution of these characters.
If you were expecting the highest of Shyamalan thrills, temper your expectations. This is more of a deliberately-paced Unbreakable film than an electric Split follow-up. And what you expect these characters to do going in may not be the roles they end up performing. If you go in and allow yourself to experience the threads Shyamalan weaves, you may walk out more fulfilled.
Because even though Glass is not as thrilling as Split or Unbreakable, it's exactly what a Mr. Glass movie should be, still with plenty of surprises and unexpected turns to close out the Eastrail 177 trilogy. Like Unbreakable, I anticipate it will get better on repeat viewings.
All in all, I found this a very happy birthday present for me.