‘Glass’ Review: Shyamalan’s Superhero Slog

Super strong vigilante David Dunn, criminal mastermind Elijah Price and super-powered sociopath The Horde, find themselves locked away in the same mental health facility, under the careful watch of Dr. Ellie Staple. Staple specializes in delusions of grandeur and seeks to convince the men that they have imagined their abilities. But none of them are ready to abandon their fanciful alter-egos and plot their final confrontation.

The film has all the problems of an M. Night Shyamalan film. Lengthy thesis statements instead of dialogue, very little in the way of character, a contrived and incredibly uneven plot, hilariously unnatural dialogue and some really awkward action sequences. There are however many elements I enjoyed. First and foremost, James Mcavoy is very entertaining as The Horde. He slips in and out of very well developed characters with such ease that it’s easy to lose yourself in his performance and buy into the very silly character.

Other performers aren’t quite pulling their weight. One has to wonder just how much time Bruce Willis was willing to give the film. His characters prolonged absence from the film is made admittedly less conspicuous by the film’s profound difficulty in juggling its narratives. In addition to the three main characters and Dr. Staple, each hero has a supporting character, none of whom are really fully developed. Their motivations are a mystery and their performances are underwhelming.

Unbreakable may be my favourite Shyamalan film and luckily some elements of that film are present here. I love the premise of an undervalued, small scale superhero film. The narrative follows the conventions of a superhero film but in marvelously personal scenes. An early sequence sees our hero character take out two hoodlums and all we really see of the action is two lights being turned off. The first confrontation between Dunn and the beast is similarly menacing and unconventional.

Unfortunately, we are made ever aware of these aforementioned conventions as the film is irritatingly self-aware. Reminiscent of the film critic character from Lady in the Water, characters are very savvy to the genre conventions of the story they find themselves in and frequently remark on the story beat that would traditionally follow. It’s a very self-indulgent contrivance and adds little to the themes of the film.

Shyamalan also proves, once again, to be incapable of handling large set pieces. The climax of this film is very reminiscent of the action scenes from The Last Airbender. Shyamalan tries to create layers of action in his foreground and background and favours wide locked down shots. The effect is that characters often appear to just be stood around waiting for something to happen. Four SWAT officers with riot shields advance, isolated in the frame, there’s no weight to their presence. They seem comically underwhelming. This also occurs whenever James Mcavoy is filmed wailing like an animal whilst flailing around in a long shot.

For a surprisingly long time, Glass had me going with its subtle action and ruminations on what it means to be superhuman. But as it chugs along and lumbers into its laborious third act, the problems become harder and harder to ignore. This is an awkward and bumpy ride but undeniably one shaped by a very singular voice. It’s another baffling and slightly embarrassing entry into the Shyamalan saga.

Two Stars

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