‘Glass’ cracks slightly under expectations

Sean Bull, Broadcast Manager

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In the closing scene of 2017’s Split, director M. Night Shyamalan threw in a last-minute twist. With the reveal that the film took place within the same continuity as his 2000 hit “Unbreakable,” Shyamalan expanded the world of the film into unforseen possibilities. Suddenly, this became a world in which sequels and crossovers could exist, and fans wondered what the next installment of the franchise would deliver.

Never one to underwhelm, Shyamalan delivers a little bit of everything in “Glass.” In tone, the film plays more like a sequel to “Unbreakable” than “Split.” That second film already worked through most of the mystery inherent to James McAvoy’s monster, so it would be difficult to keep the horror up while integrating him into a larger story. Still, the film serves up elements of what made “Split” so effective. Casey Cooke, the protagonist of that movie, is back. Her altruistic motivations are questionable (how can a girl have so much empathy for the man who almost tried to eat her?), but Anya Taylor-Joy was so great in the last film that I welcome any excuse for her return.

James McAvoy, as he was in “Split,” is on another level, and steals nearly every scene he’s in. When reviewing “Split,” some pedantic nerds pointed out that though Kevin Crumb is stated to have twenty four separate personalities, the film only showed us about eight. Well, nerds, McAvoy saw your implied challenge, and this performance is his response. The movie credits him with playing twenty of twenty four, and he keeps each one distinct. Without even cutting away, the camera fixates on McAvoy as he shifts his posture and expression. Those visual cues are enough to telegraph exactly which personality he’s switched to before he even speaks. Every aspect of McAvoy’s performance is masterful.

On the other hand, it sometimes feels like Bruce Willis doesn’t even get to play one full character. The early part of the film sets Willis up as our protagonist, then much of the rest of the film deflates his importance. That’s not so bad at first, as this film revolves around the power of belief, suggesting that for these exceptional individuals, believing in themselves is just as important as the powers they possess. However, for Willis’s character, the beatdown almost never stops, and his arc doesn’t resolve in a satisfying payoff like McAvoy’s or Jackson’s. This isn’t the actor’s fault. Bruce Willis has had some apathetic performances in recent years, but any disappointment fans may feel with his character springs from the writing.

Ultimately, as its title suggests, this film centers on Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass. In all the years since the events of “Unbreakable,” his character never lost sight of his dream: a world where comic books come to life. In a superhero universe where the greatest feats of strength only involve slowly bending steel, the fragile but brilliant Mr. Glass feels the most like a traditional supervillain. If you were a fan of his character in the first movie, you’ll like his arc as it continues in this one. Shyamalan one ups himself, writing a twist worthy of the eighteen years it took to gestate this sequel.

On the topic of twists, it does seem like Shyamalan feels obligated to put them in this film, if for no other reason than to uphold his reputation. For every well-executed subversion of expectations, there seems to be another that M. Night wrote with no set up, just because the audience expects to be surprised in some way. This, I think, is distracting, and explains why two out of every three critics surveyed by RottenTomatoes disliked the film. Personally, I’m not one of those critics. Maybe I have a slight advantage, I was introduced to “Unbreakable” last week, so I haven’t been awaiting a sequel for the past two decades, but I still don’t think “Glass” disappoints. Sure, Shyamalan occasionally gets in his own way, but this film still competently wraps up everything I liked from the first two movies. Better still, it’s a possibility that “Glass” isn’t just a lid on the “Unbreakable” trilogy, it might just as well be a window to exciting Shyamalan projects in the future.

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