If director M. Night Shyamalan is known for one thing, it’s adding a twist at the end of a movie that makes you rethink everything you’ve just seen. Audiences loved him for making them watch The Sixth Sense twice, but hated him for making them watch The Happening once. What started as a bold directorial vision turned into a weak gimmick. After years in directorial jail Shyamalan proved he could still surprise audiences with Split, and now Glass reminds us why we loved him in the first place.
To appreciate this masterpiece you must begin with Unbreakable. The 2000 film that began this comic-book trifecta. In it, brittle-boned Elijah( Samuel L. jackson) befriends David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the sole survivor of a terrible train derailment. The film was a precursor to the more fantastical superhero movies that we have now, where Unbreakable’s “heroes” weren’t high flying caped crusaders, but more grounded people who simply had abilities that elevated them above the common man. Elijah convinces David that he is one such person, and that he should use his strength to protect others. The twist of the movie reveals Elijah to be the mastermind behind Davids’ train derailment, and that he has spent his life trying to prove heroes exist as a means to justify his existence as a villain (Sorry if I spoiled that, but if you haven't seen it in 20 years...that’s on you).
Unbreakable was a success at the box office, but remained a cult classic and didn't get mainstream respect for over a decade. After a series of big swings and huge misses derailed Shyamalan’s career for a while, he returned in force with 2016’s Split, a film where James McAvoy plays a person with Dissociative identity disorder (DID). No spoilers, but it's safe to say his identities cause a bit of trouble. It isn’t until the final scene when we hear the Unbreakable score, and see Bruce Willis, do we find out that this was a sequel all along. These twists are the key to unlocking the beauty of the trilogy. If you’re not on board with re-contextualizing everything you’ve seen up to this point, you probably won't appreciate where he takes the series with the final twist. Glass slides into place like a glove, giving the entire trilogy its final form.
The story of Glass is simple, as shown in the trailers, all 3 characters from the previous movies are thrown together in a mental institution run by the spectacularly cast new addition, Sarah Paulson. The story stays small, focusing on the question of what it would mean to be ‘Super’. Are you obligated to be a hero, or even a villian? Since Shyamalan’s heroes are so grounded, there is more room for doubt that maybe you’re not even ‘Super’ at all. Glass plays with the expectations, and by the end of the movie the director proves he still knows what he’s doing. The number of callbacks and references to earlier movies show nothing you’ve seen here is done on accident. That said, the movie asks you to meet it on its terms and if you’re not on board with the ending you may walk out unsatisfied. That's a risk a director takes when swinging for the fences.
Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse has been called the best movie adaptation of the comic book style ever, but I think Glass makes that reign short lived. By the time the credits roll, this film delivers a superhero movie every bit as impressive as anything with Avengers in the title. It takes a special kind of director to pull that off, and as pretentious as it may be, and as gimmicky as M. Night Shyamalan has been through the years, you have to give credit where credit is due. Glass expounds upon the themes of the previous 2 movies and snaps them into place like they’ve always been a part of the puzzle. Time will tell if it takes another decade for this one to be fully appreciated.
For a more in depth conversation on Glass, listen to our Podcast