Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Review: GLASS

by Adam Riske
I’m going to try something different with this review.

The first part will be a brief non-spoiler review of Glass, followed by a “Good/Bad/Ugly” section that will have spoilers. I don’t want to spoil anything about the movie for those who haven’t seen it, but I would feel like I’m talking about the movie in half-measure if I reviewed it without spoilers. Both sections will be clearly marked in this review. With that out of the way…

Non-Spoiler Take

Glass was not the movie I was expecting as the finale to the Unbreakable trilogy. Expectations aside, I liked Glass quite a bit (I’ve seen it twice) and I look forward to future viewings where I watch Unbreakable (one of my three favorite superhero movies ever), Split (which I’ve grown to appreciate after a second viewing), and Glass all in a row. Glass makes some head-scratching choices and I can easily understand why anyone (M. Night Shyamalan fan or not) would be disappointed, thinks it ruins what came before, it or feels it’s just outright bad.
For me, as a fan of the filmmaker, I felt rewarded and I think it’s a mostly satisfying entry in his filmography. I am also just happy to have M. Night Shyamalan movies. I saw Glass the first time with friends from F This Movie!, and my first reaction to the film was that I just like Shyamalan’s voice even if I don’t love all the lyrics. His movies (most of them) “sound” good to me. I’m also happy he’s still very much doing his own thing. Glass is anything but basic, and his take on superheroes feels specific and authorial. The performances in the film have a wide range. Faring best are James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson, who have created villains of impressive depth over the course of their respective two films in this trilogy. Bruce Willis is better here than in his direct-to-video fare of late, but his lack of energy goes past a character choice and hinders what has become for me (thanks in large part to his performance in Unbreakable) a character I love. I am a huge fan of the David Dunn character and the success of him in Glass is more due to the writing than Willis’s performance which is a bummer. Sarah Paulson and Anya Taylor-Joy give the performances required of them, but the writing lets them down. The Paulson character is a bit impossible to make enjoyable. She’s the William Atherton of Glass.

Before I get into the spoiler section, here’s my take: If you have any interest in the movie, see it. If you like most Shyamalan movies, you’ll probably like this one. If you have never liked his movies, you won’t start to with Glass.

Okay, now for the spoiler section.

Spoiler Section

The Good
• The re-introduction to David Dunn is awesome. I love that he’s very much a crime-fighting duo with his now-grown son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). It’s a nice reveal since their dynamic was so crucial to the heart of Unbreakable.

• I was happy Glass left Casey (Anya-Taylor Joy) in a foster home and didn’t make her go through with returning to her abusive uncle from Split. When I saw Split, I was really turned off by where the movie left her so to see that play out to the character’s benefit made me happy.

• The M. Night Shyamalan cameo is hilarious. It’s so charmingly bizarre how he’s like “Yep. I’m the same guy from Unbreakable, but in the ensuing 18 years, I’ve turned my life around and I’m doing great.”

• The interplay between James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson liven up the proceedings after a stretch where the movie has slack pacing. I liked their villain team-up quite a bit.

• I like the misdirect where I didn’t know I was watching the climax of the movie (the parking lot fight) until well into the climax. I was expecting it to be a smaller battle before an Aliens-style second climax in the Osaka Tower. It’s cool to me that Shyamalan wants to keep this universe small and modest.

• The reveal of how Elijah/Mr. Glass plays into Kevin/The Beast’s family history and more so Kevin’s reaction to it was satisfying. I also thought the wrap up for their characters was handled well unlike David Dunn, but we’ll get to that later.

Glass has a lot of ideas and doesn’t stick to any single one for very long. But for however long the movie covers them I found the themes often fascinating. Here are three I picked up (this is all subjective of course...I’m not sure the movie is saying these for sure):

  1. For “good” people (e.g. David Dunn) to realize their potential fully and not limit it for themselves. After the events of Unbreakable, you would think he’d be a full-fledged superhero, but he relegated himself to a street-level vigilante. I think it’s also a meta-commentary on how Shyamalan feels about his comeback, starting with The Visit. It’s like that movie and Split are him succeeding but reigning his full Shyamalan-ness in a bit to be more palatable. In Glass, he’s going full Shyamalan again, whether you like it or not.
  2. Retaining a sense of awe and wonder, here represented by comic books and being a fan of them. I don’t think it’s a mistake that Sarah Paulson sounds like an idiot when she’s criticizing the other characters for indulging in their superhero fantasies. I think that’s the movie saying that these people are wet blankets and it’s wrong for them to be lecturing others to grow up.
  3. Lastly, I think the movie is commenting on gaslighting, which is so prevalent nowadays that unfortunately we are numb to it. Paulson’s character is wrong, she knows she’s wrong, everyone else knows she’s wrong, but she is more willful in her point of view than the characters who oppose it.

The Bad
• The pacing really stalls between when McAvoy and Willis are admitted into the psychiatric hospital and when Samuel L. Jackson becomes a more active participant in the movie. On a weird meta-level, Sarah Paulson’s character (Dr. Staple) is preventing the audience from seeing the movie they want to see (where these three men interact more with each other) as much as she’s trying to convince them they are not supernatural.

• The dialogue and line delivery at times is laughable. E.G. “Have you ever seen very good magicians?” or “Have you ever been to a comic book convention?” etc. Elijah Price’s mom (Charlayne Woodward) has some others, too, calling out specific comic book tropes explicitly. Her old age makeup is not great either, though the actress’s performance is solid.

• David Dunn is well...done dirty by the end of Glass. This character has (I’m embarrassed to say) meant something to me over the years and to see that Shyamalan doesn’t really see him as a man anymore but mostly a martyr (to advance the cause of superheroes) is disappointing. Dunn’s death is sudden and muted when at the very least it should have had more heft. It’s disappointing to know I’ll have to watch Unbreakable and remember how his character ends up at the end Glass.

• The secret society that Paulson leads is handled poorly, especially that they all meet in restaurants where even the fucking bartender is on it.

• The last scene is another case (like The Matrix Revolutions) where I thought to myself “How did we end up here?” By that I mean, it’s a trilogy where the hero(es) are mostly dead and in the final moments we’re sitting on a bench with a bunch of supporting characters in whom we are less interested. The movie ends caring more about martyrs and legacy when it would be better served focused on the central characters. It’s like if Heat ended with Diane Venora and Amy Brenneman going to Cheesecake Factory to debrief. Also, how in the fuck do you expect me to believe that a serial killer’s kinda girlfriend, a terrorist’s mom and a hero’s dad are suddenly chummy even if they share a common bond?

The Ugly
Glass is tougher to defend when I think about how Shyamalan wants me to sympathize with a terrorist (“Mr. Glass”) and a serial killer (“The Horde”). I don’t want them to realize their potential if they must harm others to do it. I mean, that’s still a bad thing, right? The movie doesn’t need to moralize but also, they shouldn’t be on equal ground for audience sympathy as the hero (David Dunn). I think this is exacerbated in Glass because Sarah Paulson’s character is basically the biggest bad, like Brian Cox’s character was in X2: X-Men United. Her whole subplot complicates the Unbreakable series in some good ways, but also diminishes the arcs and interplay between the three main characters.

• Mrs. Price and Casey are basically enablers to the villains. Mrs. Price treats all the violence caused by Elijah like its collateral damage and Casey’s Beauty and the Beast thing with Kevin is weird considering he’s a serial killer who murders young girls. I get that he has benevolent personalities too, but, um...shouldn’t his actions outweigh his intent where she would at least want to stay away from him?

In closing, you can see I like many aspects of Glass and there are others that drive me crazy. All in all, I like the movie and see it as a fascinating entry in a trilogy I’ve grown very fond of over the years. It’s a property I get really dorky about which happens less often for me lately and I really love it when it occurs - warts and all. Back in the day, I used to go to the megaplex on opening night with my friends for the new blockbuster movie and we’d go to IHOP afterwards to discuss it. I wish Glass came out in 2003. It’s a great IHOP movie.

What did you think of Glass? Leave a comment below and mark SPOILER when spoiling.


  1. All i have to say is: Same. You hit the nail on the head on everything that's good and bad with the movies. The movie is not getting superngood reviews and i don't understand why. But i guess it's the usual everything-has-to-be-good-or-bad-no-inbetween.

    Thanks for this Adam

  2. I agree with a lot of your review, even though in the end I come out more on the side of disliking it than you did. For all the issues it has (and it has a *lot* of issues), I was happy just seeing a movie that's 100% unfiltered M. Night in theaters again in 2019, and your quote on liking his voice more than his lyrics is spot on for me also. His movies have this tone that is often disconnected and dour, while still having this unapologetic sincerity to it. And I think M. Night's strengths lie in show-don't-tell, the quiet lingering shots where the characters' silence speaks volumes. It's a shame he doesn't lean more into this in Glass, since the actual dialogue often feels hokey or on the nose, and gets more troublesome as the movie progresses. His direction is still top-notch, and I wonder if The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are examples where the grip of studio executives actually helped him tone down some of his weaknesses.

    My biggest problem with Glass is that, even ignoring these shortcomings, at best it builds on a movie that in my opinion already explored it's story to its full potential, either by retreading character arcs we've already seen or by adding new layers of plot/world-building that (in my opinion) don't add anything to the story introduced in Unbreakable.

    SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT: Really? Rusty bars and Youtube tutorials on climbing? Nice try, but M. Night is trying to sell us an idea here that falls apart instantly if you remember the events in Unbreakable (or even Split for that matter). And the new questions that are raised (What is James McAvoy's connection to Glass? Outing superheroes in public? Secret societies controlling the facts?) felt largely like subplots that don't really affect the bigger story in any meaningful way, other than to have some twists to reveal at the end. Which is a bummer, because for all the jokes M. Night has been the punchline of in the last 20 years, I think the twist at the end of Unbreakable was incredibly strong (if not delivered clumsily) and served an important function in wrapping up its characters and themes.

    So yeah. I wasn't a fan, but there are *good* things in Glass. I just wish there was more of it, and less of the bad stuff. I'd love to see what Night can do in collaboration with another writer, because I'm not sure complete creative freedom is something that benefits his movies.

    1. Your second paragraph struck a cord. I agree that it's not a great sequel to Unbreakable in terms of deepening the characters or themes. It's a better Split sequel.


    GLASS had me locked in right from the jump, lost me with the secret society reveal, and then completely won me back at the train station. I was genuinely moved by the cut from present day STC to the breakfast scene from UNBREAKABLE (my favorite scene from that movie). Great piece Adam!

  4. I think this film will be an interesting study ten years down the road. Some of it I was so on board with, but you really hit home my issues with your "Ugly" section.

    It's a movie I wouldn't have minded being 2.5 or 3 hours if things could have played out a little better. I like the idea that he set up a "cinematic universe" as one of the twists, I just don't like how he did it.

    Dunn's character wasn't handled with the care I thought it deserved.

    1. It's such a frustrating movie but one I want to watch multiple times.

  5. Great piece for sure! Really hard to tackle all of this movie the way you did.

  6. I love this movie. Of course it has issues, but I just love it. I love Adam’s idea of it being an ihop movie, but I need this movie to exist in 2019. The gaslighting, or glasslighting, is my favorite part. For that reason, the “have you ever seen a good magician” and the “old bars” and the “YouTube tutorials” are incredible moments. As an audience we know we are being lied to and watching the doubt crept into the characters creates a visceral reaction.

    I also wonder if budget issues actually created more thoughtful film making.

    1. "I also wonder if budget issues actually created more thoughtful film making"

      Of course it does. The best example is Jaws

  7. "It’s disappointing to know I’ll have to watch Unbreakable and remember how his character ends up at the end Glass."

    OK, never going to see this now. That may sound trite, but David Dunn strangely also means something to me and I can't do that to myself when I have so few heroes left.

  8. I found this movie ... satisfactory. It was great revisiting these characters again! I just wish David Dunn had more to do, there was an entire stretch of the movie where he just disappeared! Also, the part of the movie taking place in the psych hospital resolved a little too neatly and rang false. Perhaps because I work in a psych unit. It really bothered me! Great write up, Adam. I feel like I need to see it again, only laying aside my expectations, to fully form an opinion on this one. The problem is that Unbreakable set the bar so so high. IMO it was close to a masterpiece.

    1. For me, the second viewing helped. It went from a movie I was embarrassed to like (because of the critical consensus) to one I just liked. And yes, Unbreakable is amazing.

  9. I've read many reviews of this movie but this one was my favorite. You summed up all my thoughts so I have nothing to say. Well done, sir.

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  11. You hit just about all of my thoughts after seeing GLASS today. I think my biggest issues stem from the lack of a clear central character. I'd feel better about the ending if Dunn were clearly the central character, and if we were seeing the culmination of his choices, rather than those consequences being a side effect.

    I guess SPOILERS to be more clear:

    As a fan of UNBREAKABLE, I was probably never going to be happy about David Dunn dying. But if his death had been the result of a sacrifice on his part, rather than a villain reveal it would have felt more earned. It also would have helped if he'd had more to do in the movie. I don't feel like I can even say whether or not Bruce Willis felt completely checked-in, because he wasn't given anything, really, to check in to. There's no scene with him that feels like it has the same weight as the kitchen scene in UNBREAKABLE, and it felt like that would have been an easy fix by putting the three central characters together more prior to the big fight (which also would have given us a chance to have a better reunion between Dunn and Elijah) or a substantial scene between David and his son.