There’s a saying in a lot of art classes or creative writing classes: “Show, don’t tell.” It’s a fundamental rule about storytelling that can make all the difference between something being enjoyable to watch or a chore. And as interesting as all the ideas that are presented by M Night Shyamalan’s ‘Glass,’ it sabotages its own engagement by telling us too much rather than letting the film speak for itself
That’s the biggest issue I have with ‘Glass.’ It’s completely overwritten. There’s too much plot, too much exposition going on in the film. Everything is being explained. And it has to be since the film is a sudden cinematic shared universe between the films ‘Unbreakable’ (back in 2000) and ‘Split’ (released last year). It’s a direct sequel to the 19-year old realistic superhero film written and directed by M Night Shyamalan with Bruce Willis. He brings that character back at the end of ‘Split,’ to surprise us with a comic book narrative about extraordinary human beings with special gifts and there is a feeling of being bogged down by the time lost between the two films.
Following directly from the two films, Bruce Willis’ David Dunn has been captured alongside with James McAvoy’s Kevin Crumb and put into an asylum alongside Samuel L Jackson’s Mr. Glass with the hopes that they would be cured from their delusion by Dr. Ellie Staple (an underutilized Sarah Paulson). While the opening teases at the interesting comic book narrative that might play out with Dunn squaring it off with Kevin Crumb’s “Beast,” the story is sabotaged by a whole dynamic about whether they are truly gifted or merely suffering from a delusional state.
The film is unabashedly a comic book film — with generous servings of the superhuman abilities of its lead characters — but the film’s story tries to convince its characters that they aren’t special at all. It fails in this respect because it doesn’t ever give us any substantial argument that they are delusional. So the major point of tension is lost within the narrative.
On one hand, it’s a superhero movie trying to operate within the good guy versus bad guy narrative of Dunn, Crumb, and Mr. Glass but it also has to contend with Dr. Staple and her theory, which we, the audience, knows to be false. As the film tries to juggle both storylines — including short subplots for the supporting characters of each superhuman — it ultimately slows down from ever successfully being one movie with a singular focus.
This is what bogs down the pacing and the story of ‘Glass.’ In fact, the titular character himself doesn’t even get that much screen time. For a movie called ‘Glass,’ Samuel L Jackson has very little to do. When he finally shows up, he excites us with a brilliant characterization of a villainous mastermind but never gets to flex fully because we are already 3/4 into the movie and preparing for the inevitable conclusion.
And, like any M Night Shyamalan film, there is a twist and it’s a cerebral one. It’s an idea that needs to be explained and leads to further exposition at the very end of the film, which removes any chance of actually feeling something from this almost-comic book movie and almost-psychological study on identity and the power of the mind.
This is why ‘Glass’ feels so unsatisfying as a film because it is a thesis on a comic book idea that plays out with all the elements of a typical superhero movie but works within the genre of a psychological thriller. It’s not a comic book adventure as it is designed to be but neither is it deep or profound enough a character study because it has a different agenda altogether. You have to reach the end to find out what it is M Night Shyamalan is trying to say and it’s quite far removed from everything the movie was making you believe that it was in the first place.
It’s a movie about comic book heroes and yet it is aware that it is so, it follows from the original ‘Unbreakable’ narrative that Mr. Glass has come to his insights on David Dunn’s abilities and his own purpose through comic books. The film actually discusses these comparisons — the comic book stories coming to life in the film’s reality. It’s this breaking of the lifting of the veil, so to speak, that turns ‘Glass’ into this literal narrative that allows Shyamalan to actively speak about his ideas.
It’s disappointing because he has these interesting, complex characters and a dramatic situation rife with possibilities but the film ends with a thesis statement about being extraordinary that takes away from the magic of the film’s premise.
What is sorely lacking in ‘Glass’ is the poetry that you can find in many of Shyamalan’s older work like ‘The Sixth Sense,’ ‘Unbreakable,’ and ‘Split.’ The film feels more like a treatise than it does a story and the cerebral twist in the end, and its exposition-heavy explanation of it, ruins the dramatic energy created by the films building blocks: its characters and plot.
It’s unfortunate because this was highly anticipated. I wasn’t a fan of either ‘Unbreakable’ or ‘Split’ but I could see why they were so beloved. At the end of it all, we get to see a completely underutilized Samuel L Jackson and Sarah Paulson (these two actors are amazing and they could have done so much more with a better script), an uninterested Bruce Willis, and a magnificent James McAvoy, who is working with an overwritten character.
Too much plot, not enough emotional weight, ‘Glass’ shatters under its own cleverness.