Do superheroes live amongst us? It was a question that director M. Night Shyamalan first asked in 2000’s gripping drama Unbreakable, and which he then continued to explore further with 2016’s intense thriller Split. Now in Glass he is ready to conclude his Eastrail 177 trilogy with the ultimate battle between good and evil.
Security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) uses his supernatural abilities to track Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a disturbed man who has twenty-four personalities.
Comic book characters. They play an integral part in our society and the multi-coloured stories that collect their adventures of courage and heroism continue to inspire us and help lead us to reach our own true potential. These characters and stories are archetypal in nature and they have long served as a source of inspiration for Shyamalan. Following the birth of both hero and villain we are now at the final stages of this saga and in Glass, the director gives his final statement on just what it means for superheroes to exist in our real world.
Possessing a learned knowledge of both the superhero genre and the comic book medium Shyamalan takes this art form and presents it to us in a completely original take here in Glass. Using his film’s real world Philadelphia setting to great affect, Shyamalan employs the idea of reality to inform his narrative and frame the notion of how the extraordinary exist among the mundane. With Glass he throws away the blockbuster spectacle of traditional superhero fare and instead focuses his attention on this heightened normality, and just how these archetypal characters would act in our 2019 real world setting. While the characters of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) are all superior beings in there own right, Shyamalan keeps them as grounded as possible which really makes their individual abilities even more fascinating to behold. He takes his audiences inside the minds of his characters and works to make you understand how each of them tick and how with the passage of time they have all grown to accept their abilities, and question just how their existence plays out in our world.
James McAvoy is far and away the star of the show here in Glass and as the conflicted villain Kevin Wendell Crumb, also known as The Horde, he builds on the masterful performance we first saw in Split. McAvoy’s chameleon performance really shifts up a notch here as we bear witness to 20 of his 24 personalities and his inventiveness and ease of transition between each of them really commands your focus. His physical transformation is also something to be admired here as he’s packed on a healthy dose of muscle mass to become a legitimate threat as the ferocious Beast and his howling, animalistic rage as this shadow-side villain will leave you gripped with fear. You never know whats going to happen next with McAvoy and his unexpected shifts in performance really keep you on edge.
Making a return to the Eastrail 177 trilogy is Hollywood veteran Bruce Willis as David Dunn and his heroic journey has been a long one since Unbreakable. Dunn has now accepted his abilities as a hero and takes his vigilante crime fighting seriously as he protects the innocent and seeks to punish the corrupt in a guise that becomes known as The Overseer. But every hero needs to be tested by the ultimate villain and Dunn finds his test in The Beast. What struck me with Willis’ performance in Glass was that we were watching a man who is committed to doing good and has this old-guard stoicism about him. Where as he was once a man of doubt, Dunn is now a man of action and has readily accepted his responsibilities as a hero and a father. Coupled with the film’s real world setting, Dunn’s presence is a much needed one and his penchant for heroic acts will have you cheering on as he takes the fight to the bad guys in a world that can sometimes feel so empty of any kind of real hero.
Finally rounding out Glass is the titular character himself, Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, a twisted genius whose belief in the extraordinary has led him to commit despicable acts in order for him to come to terms with who he is as a man and his archetypal nature. Jackson once again channels his characters twisted intelligence to good use here, and even though he may be the least threatening character, his mind and it’s cognitive ability make him the most dangerous person on screen. Jackson’s intelligence is on display here as Elijah and his determination to prove that the superior do exist leads to many frightening moments.
Walking in on this superhuman trinity is Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist specializing in cases involving delusions of grandeur and her introduction throws a wild card into the mix. While Glass’s three main characters represent ideas of the possible and the miraculous, Staple’s character is a far more clinical persona and her presence is one that will really unnerve you. While on the surface their is nothing superior about Staple, the audience will come to learn that she herself carries her own ‘super-power’ in her ability to get inside the minds of her patients and how she very ably deconstructs their personas. Paulson’s sense of calm and composure within the film is completely unsettling and is a real credit to the actresses control of her craft.
As an exercise in worldbuilding, Glass is a piece of cinema that is extremely visually striking. As he did in both Unbreakable and Split, Shyamalan continues to utilize his unique colour palette with the prominent hues of green, yellow and purple to symbolize his characters and their motivations. These prominent visual references command your attention and help to pull you deeper into the arcs of the characters as an audience member. This use of defined colour, which is blended with the desaturated cinematography of Mike Gioulakis, and his use of framing, transforms the cinema screen into that of a literal moving comic book and makes for a unique visual aesthetic.
In discussing Glass, and Shyamalan’s process as a filmmaker I can also not go past his use of the unexpected and here it really keeps you on your feet. There is absolutely nothing predictable about Glass and Shyamalan takes his audience through plenty of zigs and zags and the result is a piece of cinema that is one of the most original narratives I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness in terms of superhero structure. I can’t go into specifics without leading to any notion of spoilers, it’s something that makes for a very interesting narrative.
If you’re seeking a superhero story with an intellectual twist then Glass is a film you need to see. Clever and meticulous in its characterization and visuals, Glass is something truly unique and is a fitting conclusion to the Eastrail 177 trilogy.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures