Cracked actors: Even Samuel L Jackson looks silly in ‘Glass’
Intermittently entertaining but also a rum mix of goofy and pretentious, it is a lumpy tangle of loose threads
The rollercoaster career of M Night Shyamalan, ever tilting at comebacks, shoots for the moon in Glass, a bombastic mash-up of earlier ideas about real-life superhumans that culminates in his very own Infinity War. It’s the third part of a trilogy few knew was on the cards until the final scene of Split, Shyamalan’s 2016 cult smash with James McAvoy as a kidnapper with multiple personality disorder. That ripe bit of hokum used a Bruce Willis cameo to tie the story into the same conceptual world as Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense follow-up, 2000’s moody curio Unbreakable.
Glass – named after the third character operating in this Philadelphia-set universe, the shadowy mastermind played by Samuel L Jackson – is a bold auteurist gamble for the writer-director, who has never been shy about flinging out fever-brained story ideas and leading us wilfully down the garden path.
Intermittently entertaining but also a rum mix of goofy and pretentious, Glass sets far more problems than it successfully solves: tying various loose threads together, Shyamalan can’t restrain himself from adding more. The result’s a lumpy tangle, and the trilogy’s weakest instalment.
At the very least, it has a top-billed McAvoy shape-shifting, once more with feeling, through his career’s most crazed assignment. Because we’re done explaining the deal with “The Horde”, the 23 distinct personalities jostling inside Kevin Wendell Crumb, he gets to cut loose now and cycle rapaciously between them, often for mere moments at a time.
Whenever he’s on screen, this Greatest-Hits-style approach to the role chivvies the film on watchably, even when the actual situations – three-quarters of it are set at a low-fun state mental facility where all the main characters are kept – tend towards static or laborious.
Willis’s David Dunn, Unbreakable’s hooded vigilante, is very much the laconic, unknowable Batman here to McAvoy’s whole deck of Jokers, with Jackson’s long-imprisoned Elijah Price/“Mr Glass” as a kind of enigmatic Riddler sitting tight until his masterplan is finally unveiled.
For whatever reason, Shyamalan lacks the gift of triangulation. At any given stage, his film feels like it’s flatly forgotten about one of its three leads, and the chatty middle stretches are just a waiting game for the whole trio to be brought into play.
The linking figure is Dr Ellie Staple, a shrink specialising in specific delusions of being superhuman, which all three of these neatly incarcerated characters have. As played by an officious, white-clad Sarah Paulson, she’s mainly a fun sponge who keeps ragging on comic books as irrelevant escapism, unlike Shyamalan, who really wants us to know how powerfully they reflect the battles being waged in the real world.
It’s not enough for him to marshal his own parade of heroes and villains for a climactic dust-up, staged entirely in the asylum’s outdoor car park. No, the movie has to be a whole disquisition on What Comics Signify, with levels of meta-commentary that will exhaust anyone who doesn’t spend every waking moment explaining how underrated The Dark Knight Rises was. Honestly, there’s only so much patience you can extend a film which expects jaws to drop at the line “This was an origin story the whole time!” in its effortful geeksplosion of a finale.
Any nested fun to be had in Glass is courtesy of McAvoy, but also Jackson up to a point: the film gives him a special-guest-star status surely envied by Willis, who starts off reprising his own leading role, then gets uncertainly shoved in the cooler, ceding screen time to Spencer Treat Clark (so good in Unbreakable as his pre-teen son), a vaguely pointless Anya Taylor-Joy as Split’s lone survivor, and a super-silly Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s doting, overdressed mum.
The movie is just so weirdly organised, jumping between perspectives in hope of penny-drop epiphanies that never effectively drop – you could easily miss about three twists out of confusion or boredom. Giving Glass the greatest possible benefit of the doubt, it’s at least enthusiastically nuts, but Shyamalan has been overemboldened by Split’s success and blown it. He needs a single great idea again, not a zillion lame ones.
- © The Daily Telegraph