Nineteen years ago, M. Night Shyamalan directed a radical film known as “Unbreakable,” a film that looked to be a conventional mystery and psychological thriller but was in fact a slow-burning and grounded take on the superhero genre.
The film revolves around a security guard, David Dunn (Bruce Willis). Dunn, the sole survivor of a massive train derailment, initially believes it to be luck but is convinced by the enigmatic Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) and his hopeful son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), that he was in fact imbued with superhuman abilities and that it was his duty to help people as a hero.
A decade and a half later, Shyamalan directed 2016’s “Split,” which is seemingly unrelated to “Unbreakable” and follows Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder with 23 distinct identities. His more sinister personalities kidnap Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) and some other girls to sacrifice to the superhuman 24th personality, The Beast.
Cooke eventually bests Crumb and the “Horde,” a supervillain who gains the attention of Dunn, after he reports Price, a criminal mastermind who commits major crimes to find superhuman individuals like Dunn and goes by the name “Mr. Glass,” due to a severe brittle bone disease, to the police.
Now, Shyamalan aims to finish this evolving trilogy with a third film that, much like his previous films, subverts expectations by providing an overly ambitious, sometimes messy but riveting deconstruction of the superhero film.
On a technical level, “Glass” showcases Shyamalan’s abilities to work hand in hand with his tech workers to showcase impressive cinematography, vivid production design and effective camera work during the more tense and dramatic sequences.
However, a major issue is that the visceral nature of the action scenes involving Dunn/The Overseer and Crumb/The Horde/The Beast is diminished by shoddy camera work, though there is a spark here and there during the raw brutality of these aspects.
Story-wise, Shyamalan displays a great deal of ambition and analysis, perhaps a bit too much on the screenplay level as he descends into too much explanation and overwrought reveals on how certain things work compared to comics, but these elements don’t overwhelm the film for too long.
The acting performances in the film are an amazing display, from the ulterior kindness of a psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) who attempts to persuade the main characters that superhuman beliefs are merely fiction, to James McAvoy’s consistently scene-stealing performances with his various personalities, and the Machiavellian nature and villainous intents of Jackson’s performance as Mr. Glass.
However, Willis, Taylor-Joy and Treat Clark are not to be outdone as they bring in a wave of realistic, grounded emotions and cool-headedness to offset the more vibrant villains. The score from West Dylan Thordson is also minimalist yet effective, combining the best elements of the “Unbreakable” and “Split” scores to produce a sometimes grandiose, sometimes subdued effect.
However, the film’s pace lags in the middle as plot elements become summary and effective flashbacks take over before the highly subversive climax, which will either make or break the zeal in the more energetic first half.
For me, it worked towards an adequate climax that just needed a better finish. However, the set-up definitely led to a desire for more entries in Shyamalan’s wondrous superhero cinematic universe.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Release Date: Jan. 18
Rating: 4 out of 5