Oh boy, what a disaster.
M. Night Shyamalan, he of probably two good films, probably? I know we all like The Sixth Sense, and most people claim to like Unbreakable, though everyone I’ve talked to in my real life remembers nary a thing about it. After that…yikes. I tend to veer towards the rather maligned The Village as a a guilty pleasure, at least when I watched in 2005. But the idea that the one-time “heir to Spielberg” has been on some kind of comeback trail has been a befuddling thing to experience. The Visit, his big “return to horror” was high on schlock and provided little else, whereas Split made for a nice vehicle for James McAvoy to chew scenery, and he’s very good – it nevertheless only amounted to a tease for what Shyamalan really wanted to do: a sequel to Unbreakable.
But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Poor David Dunn should have been allowed to rest in the back alleyways of our respective mind palaces.
Glass takes place years after Unbreakable, basically in real time. Bruce Willis returns as the titular hero of that film, and in a nice touch, Spencer Treat Clark returns to play his son, Joseph. They have a nice little set-up going, David as a particularly exhausted Batman-like figure “goes on walks” to take out various bad apples, and Joseph as his “Oracle”, gives him intel on his targets. But who David really has his eyes set on is the serial killer known as “The Horde”, which is where these two films collide.
And as it goes, the first 15 minutes of Glass is literally the confrontation that fans of these films have been waiting for. David tracks The Horde down, and they square off, and admittedly there’s a satisfying pleasure in seeing this super jacked-up bad guy come to face to face with someone who isn’t a helpless innocent. It’s a bit reminiscent of that bit midway in the first season of Heroes where Peter and Sylar come face to face. And then the first “twist” comes, such as it is: it turns out this isn’t going to be a typical clash of super-powered titans, because both the hero and villain are taken into custody and put into the care of psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). Suddenly, the high octane ride we were expecting is turned into a quiet contemplation of the respective psyches of these characters. You see, Staple specializes in patients who are convinced they are superheroes.
Yeah, this is where we’re going.
Unbreakable had its doses of metacommentary on superhero comics, and in 2000, ahead of the current boom cycle of these mega-billion dollar capes and tights franchises, it seemed rather novel. A case of “hey man, somebody finally gets us!” But now in a world where everyone knows Star Lord’s name, returning to that well unveils perhaps how little of the genre and even the medium that Shyamalan understands beyond the basic “good guys and bad guys exist in a constant struggle” chestnut and, even worse, that Grant Morrison-styled pap of “superheroes are our modern mythology! This stuff is important!” Watching poor Paulson deliver this wooden verbal excrement about my favorite hobby physically made my skin crawl at times, and it honestly gets even worse from there, once the title villain played by Samuel L. Jackson enters into the picture.
It’s a bummer. Jackson is an A+ comics fan from way back, and watching him basically own the Nick Fury role has been one of those small pleasures I get out of the MCU every time he gets a chance to pop up. But here, his long-awaited return as Elijah Glass, the only comic book critic to ever find fame and fortune (it was probably more because he was an art dealer, but I like the thought), is a massive disappointment. He’s got great plans for Kevin/The Horde, but it’s mostly just an excuse for Glass to talk at people about comic books. Frankly, I’m not sure there’s more than two lines of dialogue strung together by the villain that doesn’t somehow try to entertain this meta-notion. It worked fine as the end twist for Unbreakable, but it’s a tougher row to hoe when you’re trying to hang your whole movie on this idea that “comics are based on the reality that we don’t see.” And even that could work, but when characters are trying to force-feed the audience this stuff through Shyamalan’s ham-fisted dialogue, nothing connects. It becomes the sole focal-point of Glass for much of its running time, interspersed with tremendously bad scenes of Anya Taylor-Joy’s returning Casey Cooke trying to connect with her former tormentor from Split, ya know…the guy who killed her classmates? And then researching comic books to better understand him? For some reason?
And just when you think it’s all going to maybe just circle back to the beginning for a big third-act conclusion that might salvage the whole wreck, Shyamalan settles for a low-rent confrontation with some of the worst imaginable staging and CGI. While the film’s conclusion explains away the smaller scale of the final brawl, it doesn’t change the thuddingly inept execution. If you told me that the production just ran out of money, I’d believe you. On top of that, it’s very possible Willis may have only been around for about 3-4 days of shooting, he shows up so sparsely and many of his scenes might very well be someone else in his “costume” altogether.
I just felt embarrassed for almost everyone involved, save for maybe James McAvoy, whose work as The Horde continues to be pretty fun. It’s another big, “leaving teethmarks” type performance, but it’s honestly so entertaining and he’s clearly committed to the bit that it’s hard to not enjoy, if only anyone else was having as much fun.
Glass is the kind of movie that continues to pretend comics are still an “outsider pursuit” and demand to be taken so very seriously. Someone should tell Kevin Feige and every other studio head that’s trying to be him, because otherwise, I don’t know what cave Shyamalan has been living in all this time. Also, M. Night, a “limited edition” does not refer to the length of a series in comic. If you can’t get that right, how can I take anything else you have to say seriously when it comes to comics?
I should note that the director gives himself another distractingly awful walk-on role, but at this point would it even be a Shyamalan movie without that?
Oh well, at least Zack Soto’s wonderful adventure comic The Secret Voice gets a front and center cameo. I wish I had been reading that for two hours instead.