Shattering the superhero formula (Glass review)

Bringing together the characters of Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016), Glass is the final chapter in M. Night Shyamalan’s unlikely superhero trilogy, nineteen years in the making. Despite some minor narrative issues, Glass delivers the superhero thrills you’d expect, while also offering a lot more depth than the average comic book film.

The standout performance in this film is that of James McAvoy, reprising his ‘Split’ role of Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with 24 personalities. Displaying remarkable character work, he brings 20 of these personalities to life, with every single one having a distinct voice, body posture and facial tick. One personality, the Beast, is a superhuman animal-like being, and his physical transformation to get into shape to portray him is stunning.

Accompanying McAvoy are Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, reprising their Unbreakable roles of David Dunn/The Overseer, a security guard with superhuman strength, and Elijah Price/Mr. Glass, a highly intelligent murdering mastermind. These two also deliver engaging performances, though the nature of their characters mean that are much more reserved than McAvoy. It was nice that Anya Taylor-Joy and Spencer Treat Clark reprised their roles from Split and Unbreakable respectively, and this really help the film feel like a satisfying bookend.

The new addition to the cast is Sarah Paulson, who does a remarkable job of portraying Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist who specialises in patients who are convinced they are superheroes. She is an integral part to the story, though to give away too much detail would be to stray into spoiler territory. To put it very simply, she is here to discuss the possibility that perhaps the abilities the three of them possess are simply delusions of grandeur with scientific explanations, and the film is careful to not reveal anything one way or the other until the story demands it.

It should be said at this point that, unlike most of the population, my love of this franchise has only been ongoing for a month. It was late December when I finally watched Unbreakable, and Split I watched last week. Because of this, my opinion may differ to someone who’s been waiting 19 years for the trilogy to end, but I found it fantastically satisfying. The climax of the film, at first, seemed underwhelming but a final Shyamalan twist ensured that I left the theatre with closure.

Technically, the film is also very well done. The production design is exquisite, with beautiful colour schemes being used to create a supernatural theme within the real world. Equally, the different camera angles create a unique look for the film, though I feel there’s a little too much POV footage used during the action scenes. The music, composed by West Dylan Thordson, has a great mix of original atmospheric themes and reprised musical interludes from the two previous films. I would say that Shyamalan’s direction isn’t quite as stylish as the postmodern suaveness that Unbreakable had, but he still has a tight grasp of narrative and creative story telling through camera work.

Glass is a fantastic piece of entertainment that gets through its plot holes and questionable narrative points with great casting and by twisting the superhero genre on its head. It’s satisfying to think that when Unbreakable came out in 2000, superhero films were frowned upon. Now, in a vastly saturated market, Glass has finally given closure to one of Hollywood’s most unlikely franchises.

5 stars 4

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