Thu, 31 Jan 2019
Running time 2hr 9min
M NIGHT Shyamalan is living proof that a good concept does not a great film make. Since 1999’s The Sixth Sense brought him to prominence, the director’s work has tended to fall short of his dizzying ambitions; while he fancies himself the king of the twist ending, this has typically translated into contrived, erratic plotting. Though Shyamalan’s wilderness years are largely behind him, the muddled Glass feels like a setback after 2015’s The Visit and 2016’s Split – far from the sort of Big Idea vehicle he is capable of executing with relish andcompetence, it feels like a preposterous and overlong conclusion to a story arc 20 years in the making.
Glass is the third entry in theso-called Eastrail 177 Trilogy, striving to tie together the threads that Shyamalan wove in Split and the Bruce Willis-starring Unbreakable; this is, from the outset, the film’s downfall. The only thing connecting its predecessors was (spoiler) Willis’ cameo at the end of Split – whereas Marvel has fleshed out a labyrinthine universe over the course of countless individual projects, Glass finds itself lumbered with the unenviable task of bridging two effectively unrelated plots. It’s the directorial equivalent of open-heart surgery and, while Shyamalan ultimately botches it, there are intriguing flourishes along the way. David Dunn (Willis), Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) and Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) have been confined to an asylum by psychiatrist Dr Staple (Sarah Paulson). She’s convinced that their extraordinary abilities (Dunn’s strength and empathy, Elijah’s savant intellect and Crumb’s capacity to transform into the Hulk-esque ‘Beast’) are, in fact, delusions. Anybody who caught the last few films will know this to be an unlikely proposition, but Glass leaves us in no doubt from the get-go, with each main player getting a chance to flex their super-muscles. When it comes to character development, it’s very much an equal opportunities kind of movie – though McAvoy’s demented, uncharacteristically physical turn frequently steals the show, his cohorts are hardly side-lined, proudly strutting their stuff in the second act’s talkier sequences. Whereas most of Shyamalan’s movies tend to fail on account of them being extended gimmicks – substance and story play second fiddle to the Big Important Twist – Glass has all the foundations of a denser, more satisfying vision. Its setting allows for some squeamishly splendid photography à la The Shining, and it succeeds in evoking the tetchy atmosphere that made Split worth watching. Unfortunately, said foundations amount to nothing more than mere hints towards the film this COULD have been – somewhere around the halfway mark, its bagginess hit this critic with the force of a freight train, as Glass’ dependence upon expository dialogue pushes it into the realms of bloated, feeble parody. Its key thematic talking point – that there’s a thin line between villainy and heroism – is interesting, if not for the fact an adult-oriented super-cinema has already beaten it at its own game in the years between Unbreakable and Split. As one would expect of a film offering an auteuristic alternative to Marvel and DC, the final showdown (which takes place in a car park of all places) tries for deconstructive effect;
frustratingly, it just feels as if somebody’s run out of money and ideas. Shyamalan is, indeed, a more creative, intelligent filmmaker than some give him credit for. That’s not to say that he’s a great one.