Nineteen years ago M. Night Shyamalan, fresh off the success of his Oscar nominated classic ‘The Sixth Sense”, released his take on the still-growing superhero subgenre, “Unbreakable”. These two films, along with “Signs” had many calling Shyamalan the next great director in Hollywood and while Shyamalan always pictured “Unbreakable” as the start of a trilogy it took until 2017 for the second entry to see the light of day when the twist in “Split” revealed it to be a follow-up seventeen years in the making. Now two years later nearly to the day we have the final entry in Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” series now known as the Eastrail 177 Trilogy named after the train David Dunn was traveling on in the first movie. It’s a trilogy no one really asked for, yet the series has earned quite a following making this one of the most anticipated mainstream original projects in 2019. So does this finale live up to the lofty expectations? Let’s take a look with my review of “Glass”.
“Glass” takes place three weeks after the events of “Split” with the many personalities of Kevin Wendall Crumb (James McAvoy) having collected another batch of young women to feed the 24th personality, The Beast. Now nicknamed The Horde by the public, the villain becomes the target of David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who has embraced his role as a super strong, unbreakable hero. When both the Horde and Crumb are apprehended by authorities they are sent to a mental institution where they are placed under the guard of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who specializes in a delusion of grandeur where she believes individuals convince themselves they are superheroes creating psychological effects that can be misinterpreted as superpowers. Dunn and the Horde discover there is a third patient at the hospital, Dunn’s old enemy Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) aka Mr. Glass who has incredible intellect but easily broken bones. As Dr. Staple works to try and “cure” the trio of their perceived delusions Price seizes the opportunity to prove his theory of superhuman existence once and for all by teaming with the Horde and pitting the villain against David Dunn for the ultimate showdown of good versus evil.
So, I’m going to be straight up with my opinion of this film. I enjoyed it SO MUCH more than most other critics did. For a film from a divisive director who has been the butt of many jokes and one that acts as the conclusion to a trilogy no one necessarily asked for “Glass” is a solid film for many reasons. The performances are one of its strongest aspects as the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and James McAvoy feel genuinely invested in this project. For Jackson and Willis it’s even more impressive because they are recapturing characters they haven’t played in nearly two decades and yet they successfully portray the growth and evolution these individuals have experienced over the years. For James McAvoy it was only about a year after “Split” that he had to recapture a role composed of 24 different unique personalities and in this movie we get to see even more of them than in “Split”. McAvoy shifts from personality to personality seamlessly showcasing not only a dramatic shift in accent, cadence, tone and gravitas but also posture and physique. Despite having two other movies to flesh out these characters all three of the main figures feel much more defined and are given more time to shine as people as well as heroes and villains in “Glass”. We get to learn more about what goes on in their heads, their motivations and even their weaknesses complimented by engaging performances from three genuinely talented big names.
The main cast aren’t the only ones who deserve credit either. We get some delightful returning figures to the story including Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, the lone survivor of the Horde in “Split”, and Spencer Treat Clark who plays David Dunn’s son Joseph as he did nineteen years ago as a child actor. Even Charlayne Woodard, who hasn’t been in a movie since 2013, returns to play Elijah Price’s mother completing the trifecta of characters that act as support systems for the three super-powered leads. While they all do a fine job returning to their roles from previous films it’s actually a new face, Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Ellie Staple, who stands out the most among the secondary characters. Paulson, already known as a talented actress, delivers an awesome performance as a doctor trying to “cure” Dunn, Price and the Horde of their delusions of having superpowers and throughout the entire story it’s hard to get a beat on what the doctor’s true motives are. Does she really believe they are pretending or is it her own delusion that she wishes could be true? I do wish we got a little more backstory for her than we’re allotted, but that also adds to the mystery and even plays a part in one of film’s numerous twists. Regardless of how little we learn about her, Paulson makes Staple an understandably cynical person, one who feels devoted to what she believes but always keeps her true motives close to the chest.
I think what fascinates me the most about “Glass” is that, for me at least, it’s a perfect balance of its predecessors that builds on the mythology that connects them all together. Whereas “Unbreakable” was a slow paced, narrative-driven character study of both David Dunn and Elijah Price and “Split” was a fast-paced, hard hitting examination of the origin of the Horde, “Glass” feels like a neat blend of both approaches mixing a deep examination of its three main figures with pulse-pounding action. In my opinion it’s more balanced than either of its predecessors allowing time for character development and exploration into the ideas behind their powers while also giving us fun moments of conflict that test the boundaries and abilities of the Horde, Dunn and Glass like never before.
Most of all though it brings Shyamalan’s world building full circle, showcasing a reality where heroes and villains appear to really exist and how these figures would blend into a world much like our own. If you go back to “Unbreakable” that film was meant to subvert the fantasy aspects of superhero films and showcase a more grounded comic book inspired story based in the real world. “Glass” embraces this approach as well through subtle details like Dunn’s makeshift green coat as his “super suit’ and the Horde finding it difficult to make an impact on the world despite being on his third massacre in as many weeks. He’s seen as nothing more than a typical serial killer which frustrates him and his fellow personalities. This all drives the motives of Elijah Price who wants to see show the world that heroes and villains do exist. All three main characters have a purpose based on public awareness. Dunn wants evildoers to fear him enough to avoid their actions. The Horde wants to change the world by making those who have not suffered experience pain and Elijah wants to show the world he was right and that comics are more than just entertainment, but a way of capturing a hidden human history and the film makes us, and them, question what is better: the ignorance and fantasy or the truth and frightening reality.
This brings me to the psychological aspect of the film which sees Dr. Ellie Staple trying to put doubt into the three main characters’ minds that they are in any way special and surprisingly the film’s depiction of this process even imprints doubt in the viewer. I do feel this aspect of the film could have been handled a little more smoothly but it still accomplishes its goal as the Horde and David Dunn do start to question what they’ve seen as reality while it furthers Elijah Price’s obsession pushing him into his villain role as Mr. Glass. Often in superhero movies we see the hero go through some moment of self-doubt, but as Dunn and the Horde start to doubt their abilities “Glass” subverts this cliché by also giving us a delicate villain who questions his own place in the mix. Elijah never questions his place in the world though, despite all the evidence against it and the limits set before him making him the glue that ties everything together. He’s the author of the story so to speak whose job it is to convince the world that there is more to reality than they may be willing to admit. He is at once the most delusional and sane character in the film making him immune to corruption but also immune to any alternate explanation that could justify his “powers” as normal. I loved how the entire core of this film was built on this approach, to make us as the viewers and the characters question the reality and who these people really are before delivering us a whammy of a conclusion that brings everything to a close.
And yeah, I will admit that in some way the third act deserves the criticism it has gotten, but it’s not that bad. It’s definitely the most rushed and poorly paced segment of the film and ditches the subtler themes that make the rest of the project so memorable, but it makes up for that with not one, not two, but no less than THREE of Shyamalan’s trademark twists turning the entire narrative on its head. I will warn you that depending on your expectation these twists could very easily ruin the film for you especially one that proves to be rather tragic. One twist serves to further connect Elijah, the Horde and Dunn together while the second showcases a hidden villain behind much of the story and a third reveals Elijah/Mr. Glass’ true motives. Unlike many of the director’s twist endings the three twists of “Glass” did more than just leave my jaw on the floor. They also provided what I felt were fitting conclusions to the stories of the three leads even if they don’t provide a whole lot of closure for the characters or even the redemption we feel they deserve. I felt these twists were brilliant, taking notes from events of other recent superhero films, especially a few recent entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but never take the easy way out. They show that not every great hero gets a happy ending and not every great villain needs to be irredeemable. It’s not the ending we want, in fact it’s an ending that will certainly get people talking, but it’s an ending that feels inspired despite its flaws in execution. The conclusion had me and my friends talking for hours about what it all meant and the possibilities of what else might be hidden within the mythos of this trilogy. When you think about it, that is Shyamalan’s intent. His characters don’t get the easy way out and neither do we which is all part of the fun if you ask me.
Look, I’m not going to sit here and call “Glass” a work of art. It still has it’s fair share of genre clichés and the pacing of the finale could have been handled a little better, but overall I found it to be a very well done ending to the trilogy. The characters are great, the subtext is thought provoking without being pretentious and despite a rocky conclusion the twists and turns Shyamalan provides to close out this story are inspired, shocking and fit nicely within this universe he has created. Will it make everyone happy? Clearly not seeing as critics have torn this film apart, but this critics says “Glass” hides much more brilliance and quality than I think people are willing to appreciate. In my humble opinion it’s the best entry in this trilogy that balances entertainment and character-driven storytelling with ease and brings out the best in its divisive director’s unique ability to mix suspense, thrills and unexpected turns in one great package. I do think it’s one of his best works and it feels like his magnum opus, showcasing nearly everything he’s tried to bring to the table in the past while also feeling fresh and new. It’s not too often a film comes along where my opinion is this drastically different from professionals in the field, but with “Glass” I feel it deserves much more respect than it’s getting and provides a fitting, if imperfect conclusion to an awesome series.