M. Night Shyamalan has come a long way, with a string of hit-and-miss films ranging from The Sixth Sense to The Last Airbender. A Hitchcock devotee he’s always steered towards the twisty thriller genre, brave and bold in his undertakings, trying to push the bounds of storytelling in an ambitious and even reckless way. While he’s added his name to a couple of turkeys over the last decade, you imagine that the learning curve has been steep and while he continues to pursue films that flirt with the edge, there’s more of a steadiness behind the decisions. While it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster, his name still carries clout and Shyamalan’s managed to attract some heavyweight talent as a result, moving between director, producer and writer caps with relative ease.
One of his most ambitious films to date, Unbreakable, released in 2000 at a time before the superhero craze and Marvel cinematic universe even existed. Probably before its time, the strange realistic take on superheroes paled in comparison with The Sixth Sense and was misunderstood, checking in before the likes of Super, Defender and Kick-Ass. The “ordinary” superhero tag and blend of real and fantasy has become more grounded over the years forming its own vigilante subgenre, which has now become a necessary counterpoint to the time and space jumping superheroes of today. With numerous superhero films slated throughout each year, the platform has become a meat grinder, making the likes of Unbreakable seem quite appetising.
Bruce Willis is a very different star right now with his heydays well behind him. Nowadays the Die Hard actor is being second billed to newer talent like James McAvoy. The prospect of an Unbreakable revival must have seemed tempting, allowing Willis to showcase a different side to his regular typecast performances after a slew of B-movie action and comedy vehicles. Samuel L. Jackson still has considerable sway, having navigated a much steadier career with cult finesse, also probably relishing the opportunity to take on a villain in Mister Glass. While we had a glimpse of what he could do in the wicked Kingsman, Mister Glass just seems like a much more challenging role with more quirks and facets to the performance. James McAvoy is arguably the most talented of the three, rightfully taking first billing, having worked his way from “Scottish Michael J. Fox” into the realm of one of our generation’s finest and most respected actors. Regularly turning in indelible, fully committed and entrancing performances, he’s earned his place in the sun and demonstrates this time and time again.
While McAvoy can play maniacal, it wasn’t until Split that he really got a chance to sink his fangs in. This examination of a split personality disorder serial killer caught the world’s imagination, turning McAvoy from good guy to bad guy and reviving Shyamalan’s beleaguered directorial career in a blood-splattered flash. A complex, challenging and extreme performance for any actor, Split became a showcase for McAvoy, allowing him to immerse himself in an array of characters ranging from an innocent child to the ghastly Beast.
“Look what they did to me!?! They gave me jazz hands!”
While these wild transitions have a comical undertone, watching McAvoy transform without flinching makes for an experience worth the cost of admission alone, making you wonder just how intense it would be to see him transform live on stage. Masterfully executed, this little horror gem had just enough edge to put M. Night Shyamalan back on the map. While it didn’t seem like it was even related at the time, the writer-director has drawn these two seemingly standalone films together with Mister Glass as the connector.
This makes Glass one of the most bizarre films of the year, completing an unexpected trilogy with mustered purpose and flair. Using Mister Glass as the mastermind, whose comic book fascination serves as the anchor for a world in which extraordinary human beings are able to adopt superhero powers and qualities, makes for a playground of manic possibilities. Bringing an invincible man out from the shadows and pitting him against an unpredictable, relentless force and serial killer is a promising set up. Tethering them to an insane asylum with Mister Glass as the common denominator helps raise the crazy to boiling point.
Unbreakable and Split suddenly serve as prequels to Glass, which somehow manages to resurrect Unbreakable and give it new meaning. Simply combining these three name actors in a film together makes it laden with potential. Having M. Night Shyamalan, who is exciting by virtue of the fact that he’s willing to try things makes the prospect even more curious. Thankfully, none of these players disappoint, going headlong into a strange concoction of genres with slow-burning suspense.
McAvoy is brilliant as usual, blending a bit of Hulk into his latest rage-fueled performance, flanked by the experienced Jackson and Willis. The now… series has been characterised by furious microcosms and they continue this element setting the film predominantly in the asylum. While unwieldy in its attempt to draw more self-importance there are glimpses of Shyamalan’s real vision for this film with some powerful moments. While it seems to operate almost as if by accident, the collision is constantly fascinating, carrying itself with enough confidence to make you believe in their world.
Keeping the visual effects low-key, makes it reminiscent of Chronicle and it’s quite refreshing in contrast to the overblown blockbusters we’ve become accustomed to in the MCU. While an undercover superhero film, it plays to its strengths in terms of giving the characters more chance to breathe and the actors more dramatic focus. The strangely compelling performances and Shyamalan’s undulating vision keep Glass on track, managing to weave its way through a fairly murky middle.
Much like Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, there’s a modern feel to the film and the sense of a greater and more intricate puzzle. While labyrinthine thanks to Mister Glass, the psychological games and strange outworking keep you transfixed. Using flashbacks, there’s an attempt to force the puzzle pieces together across the 19-year delay between Unbreakable and Glass. While unashamedly ambitious, Shyamalan almost manages to pull it off taking the film to some lofty places and managing to stay elusive until the bitter end. Chiming in with a much more realistic setup for a series like X-Men, you wonder what the filmmaker has envisioned as a follow-up, blending two bizarre standalone films and creating a weird alternate universe turned springboard.
The bottom line: Quizzical