Film review: Glass

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, January 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews the latest movie from M. Night Shyamalan.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: It’s hard to understand what’s driving all the media hate for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie. Sure, the famously frugal writer/director has served up some stinkers in his time. But he’s also shown a willingness to take risks in order to delve into meaty themes in fun, unexpected ways. That’s never been more true than with Glass.

From the start, Shyamalan set himself a difficult task. He made a comic book movie that analyzes what makes comic book movies so popular while avoiding most of the elements everyone loves about comic book movies.

Some of the ground Glass treads is similar to The Incredibles. How do villains and heroes define each other? And should gifted individuals ever be restrained for some greater societal good? But he goes one further, asking why we’re perpetually interested in characters like The Incredibles at all. Because if there’s one thing no one can debate, it’s that Americans can’t get enough superheroes. Fully half of 20-18’s top 10 highest-earning movies started out as colored paper panels.

Shyamalan hinted at this theme in the first two films in his trilogy, Unbreakable and Split. In the finale, he throws caution to the wind and goes into full dissertation mode. While this does make for a slower and occasionally sillier ride, that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining.

Nineteen years after we left him, Bruce Willis’s everyman superhero David Dunn has a new sidekick and a new name: The Overseer.

CLIP: I found someone who will require your full potential to come out—a superhuman serial killer. Don’t do this. I’ve turned off the water hoses in your room, David. There’s only the door left. Elijah! It’s metal. But you can’t get through it because people’s bones break against metal and you’re nothing special. A lot of people are going to die, Overseer, if you don’t get through that door.

In his mission to protect the streets of Philadelphia, he begins tracking James McAvoy’s Horde—an array of personalities inhabiting one body who continue to chew the scenery both literally and figuratively. McAvoy’s tour-de-force performance as this cast of alternately hilarious and disturbing characters is alone worth the price of admission. Before we get out of the first act, the Overseer and the Horde’s super-villain personality, The Beast, face off, landing them both in Raven Hill psychiatric facility with Samuel L. Jackson’s evil mastermind, Mr. Glass.

CLIP: Miss Patricia said that your bones can break if I, like, [snaps] tap ’em. Is that true? Yes. And so what’s your superpower? Your mind? What’s mine? You’re 9 forever, right? Yeah. That’s incredible. You can see the world the way it really is, always.

This is where things likely get challenging for the typical Avengers fan. It’s also what makes the film refreshing for those of us who are wearying of eye-popping sets and prolonged fight sequences. For a long second act, the trio mostly just sits in uninspiring hospital rooms. They spend their time arguing with a psychiatrist who specializes in superhero delusions about the nature of belief versus evidence.

CLIP: Everything extraordinary can be explained away, and yet it is true. I think deep down you know this. Everything we see and do will have a basis in science, but it will have limits. This is the real world, not a cartoon. And yet some of us don’t die from bullets. Some of us can still bend steel. That is not a fantasy.

Eventually the story returns to more familiar territory, introducing some PG-13 language and violent imagery. Still, keeping to the pattern Shyamalan has established, these scenes are fairly restrained. We get the sense of The Beast attacking his prey more than the sight of it. When we do get the sight, it’s muted in some way, as is the case with a fairly brutal murder. The actual act is cut off from the camera’s view and the after-effect is shown only in quick flashes on a grainy black-and-white video monitor. That’s not to say such images won’t be too much for some viewers. But it’s easy to imagine that another director would have gone with far bloodier options.

Without giving away spoilers, I’d also say that when the classic Shyamalan twist finally comes, it serves up a message that runs counter to the ideas preoccupying Hollywood at the moment. It even hints at some politically-conservative ideas.

Or maybe not. Maybe you’ll see the movie and come away with something different. That’s all part of the fun. Glass has no shortage of ideas to dissect and debate. If we have to give up some of the flash and action to have them, that’s a trade I, for one, am more than ready to make.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Jessica Kourkounis/Universal Pictures via AP) This image released by Universal Pictures shows Samuel L. Jackson, from left, James McAvoy and Bruce Willis in a scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass.” 

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