Sunday, 20 January 2019
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
UK cinema release print.
Well this is somewhat disappointing, it has to be said.
I have a kind of love/hate relationship going with the films directed by M. Night Shyamalan. As a director I think he’s brilliant... able to tell his stories with a visual simplicity that communicates his intentions very quickly and easily. Alas... the stories themselves are generally very predictable... ranging to about 10 - 20 minutes into The Sixth Sense before you can easily figure out the ‘twist’, right the way through the ‘obvious scale’ of... at the start of the second camera shot in The Village, which immediately gives away the ending of that movie. I think the only time he ever really caught me out... and it’s a good thing when he does, by the way... was with Unbreakable, where the slight twist of Mr. Glass turning out to be a super villain actually hadn’t occurred to me. Consequently, Unbreakable has always been the film which I have held in the highest regard of his films (that and Devil which, ironically, he only wrote and didn’t direct himself).
Alas, the stealth sequel to Unbreakable released a couple of years ago, Split (reviewed here), which only revealed itself to be such during the cameo of Bruce Willis for the last few seconds of the post-credits scene... while having amazing central performances by Anya-Taylor Joy and James MacAvoy... was somehow pretty mediocre, I thought, in terms of the story. However, at least that one did right by the characters these two played. When both these two return with their characters in Glass, I dunno, it felt like they’d lost something in translation and become more cardboard in their intent as merely ‘story functions’ as opposed to three dimensional characters. And I don’t believe that’s due to the performances, because they are still excellent. I think it’s either due to the writing being somewhat less willing to explore what’s going on in their heads or, just as likely, that a lot of footage was cut, which may well have been character building stuff (I understand the first cut of this, like most movies, was a lot longer that the final release print).
They are joined, of course, by Bruce Willis reprising the central superhero character and Samuel L. Jackson as super-villain Mr. Glass. Both are excellent but Willis’ understated character seems a little too subtle here, I felt. He’s probably the least interesting character in the movie and comes off the worst of the three. Jackson’s Mr. Glass, on the other hand, seems to be the only one in the film who really sticks to his guns, so to speak, and really resembles the character he played in Unbreakable but... yeah, at the end of the day, all these characters are kind of wasted, in my opinion, in an endgame by the director which probably isn’t going to be a crowd pleaser when it comes to fans of the series as a whole, I suspect.
They are also joined by Spencer Treat Clark (still playing Bruce Willis’ son in the 19 years since the first movie), Charlayne Woodard (reprising her role as Samuel L. Jackson’s mother, even though she is younger than him in real life, I believe) and Sarah Paulson as the psychiatrist who is seen to be trying to cure the three main protagonists/antagonists from what they are supposed to believe is a delusion of their super powers.
Shyamalan also makes a cameo appearance playing the same character he played in Unbreakable and, it turns out, also the same character he played in Split. So that must be an unusual film statistic, to have the director play the same cameo character three times in three different movies. Has anybody else done this? He also puts in flashback scenes from footage that didn’t make it into Unbreakable (much the same way as Coscarelli does in some of his Phantasm films) so that’s kind of a nice thing to do.
Once again, though, the director puts things across very nicely visually but, I think, his strength is also his weakness because the way he positions certain characters in the spotlight means he gives the game away far too soon. In this case, when I saw the trailers for Glass I was pretty sure there was going to be a twist ending (of sorts) and I was pretty sure I could tell from the promotions what that reveal would be. Alas, it’s even more obvious in the movie which, actually, starts out really well but when a certain character shows up very early on, you know something fishy is going on right from the start. Just as you know that, despite appearing to be a vegetable for the first half of the movie, Samuel L. Jackson’s character already has his brain working so he can stay one step ahead of the so called ‘twist’ before it, eventually, happens at the end of the film. And that’s pretty much the main reason, I think, why I’m so down about this movie. I was looking forward to something at least worthy of the original film and, instead, we have something which really isn’t even as good as Split.
The other thing is that the sleight of hand of a big, final showdown of the movie is teased but never used and that’s a deliberate mechanism of the plot... fair enough. However, it also sets the audience up, in an age of very good superhero movies dominating the International Box Office receipts, for a big ‘final fight’ when, in fact, we’ve already witnessed it... we just didn’t know it yet. Glass finishes with a bit of a damp squib of an ending and, although the implications of the very last scene are quite a nice thing to end on in some ways, I just felt like the writer had betrayed the characters in the original movies and pulled the rug from under the audience when, it has to be said, the audience wasn’t even standing there anymore... they’d mostly all figured it all out from either the trailer or from very early on in the movie. So, yeah, a less than satisfying conclusion to a movie which, I feel, drops the ball quite often and says the one or two things it has to say in a fairly lethargic and slightly dull way.
And I’m really sorry I have to say that but, there you have it.
West Dylan Thordson provides a nice score which includes thematic elements from James Newton Howard’s original Unbreakable score and, presumably, his own score for Split (although I wouldn’t know since, like Glass, it didn’t get a proper CD release, just a download thing, so I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to it away from the movie). It’s an appropriate score, though, and serves the film well in a lot of scenes.
And... that’s all I’ve got to say about Glass. I was disappointed and I suspect that I may not be alone in that. Glass is not a big budget looking superhero film and it certainly feels like it belongs to the same universe as Unbreakable but, at the same time, seems like a dumbed down version of it with maybe a little less icing on the cake than may have been required to make this a fun, entertaining, cinematic experience. Which it pains me to say but... well there you are. I hope this film does well at the box office for Shyamalan because I think that, even though some of the movies are a bit dull, he does provide some beautiful visual moments and I would like to see him mature as a writer. Alas, this doesn’t hold up as one of the great Shyamalan movies I’ve seen and I just hope he can go somewhere more interesting from here.