By John H. Foote
M.Night Shymalan burst onto the film scene with The Sixth Sense (1999) which landed him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, five other nominations, and a DGA nomination. Touted, and touting himself as the “next Spielberg”, seven years would go by before Shymalan came crashing down to earth. His next film, Unbreakable (2000), was a sensation, an extraordinary study of real, ordinary people blessed with astounding powers. In many ways this was the first real comic book film of this new generation. Next was the massive hit Signs (2002), Which would be his last hit for 15 long years in which he took a critical pounding. Crashing down to earth, his subsequent films flopped one after another and were mercilessly hammered by we critics. Pretentious movies, lazy movies, stupid movies, Shymalan made them all and somehow kept getting funding from the studios, each hoping he would strike gold again.
Despite the critical pounding he took in the years after The Village (2004),a wretched film with a haunting score and the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard, audiences have stuck by his earlier work, especially Unbreakable (2000). When, at the end of Split (2017), as the camera slowly turns to reveal David Dunne (Bruce Willis), fans of Unbreakable all but swooned. Talk of a sequel burned through Hollywood and Shymalan confirmed that indeed, he would finish the trilogy with his third film.
Split had been so completely unexpected, so brilliant, audiences and critics were dumbfounded. Myself, I sat in absolute awe of James McAvoy who I believe deserved an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his astonishing performance as Kevin, a young man housing as many as 20 distinctive personalities. The manner in which he slips in and out of these many characters is acting genius, the voice changes, then the eyes as he settles in and then body language, all in the blink of an eye.
When Bruce Willis turns up at the end, the announcement of a third film, very soon, was complete.
Well it is here.
While not as good as either of its predecessors, it was great to see a haunted Bruce Willis back as indestructible David, and James McAvoy as Kevin and his twenty four personalities, and the savage Beast. Also back is Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Glass, a criminal mastermind with terribly fragile bones that routinely break.
The three end up in a hospital for the criminally insane, where they come under the care of a kind, but fascinated psychiatrist studying people who believe they are superheroes. Mr. Glass has been here for 19 years, seething, formulating, waiting for his chance to attempt a breakout. When Kevin lands in the same hospital and discussions of The Horde and The Beast are overheard, his mind goes into overdrive.
The three men are brought together for research by Dr. Ellie Staples (Sarah Paulson) who specializes in people who think they have super powers. She has no clue what she is getting herself into. Deep in the bowels of the Raven Hill Psychiatric Research Centre, the men are routinely questioned by the good doctor. But when not being poked and prodded, Glass is fascinated with Kevin, and wants to meet The Beast, the most evil and powerful of his alters. David and the Beast have met, a violent altercation that landed them here.
Since discovering his extraordinary strength and near indestructibility, David has been keeping the city safe as the Green Guard, named for his hooded raincoat, which becomes his super suit. He believes in the Beast, but what he fears is Glass getting into the head of Kevin and using the Beast as his own wrecking machine. And he knows that Glass has already started working on Kevin, trying to build trust to bring the Beast out. David knows only he can prevent further chaos and violence, and sadly the doctor believes them all to be insane.
If the film has a major flaw, and it does, it is that not near enough time is given to each character’s narrative. I wanted more of McAvoy, much more of Willis and more of Jackson. Instead the director and writer makes the film an ensemble, which to me cheats us of having more of who was shining.
McAvoy is electrifying as Kevin, snapping into new alters as the lights created to make him do so work their cruel magic. We encounter a full 20 different characters including the precocious child Hedwig (etcetera…) from the first film and all those we previously encountered, plus so many more. Watching him change is acting made miraculous, absolute perfection. Sadly we get far too little of Kevin, but lots more of the muscle bound, snarling Beast.
Jackson is very good as Glass, dressed in his purple finery, his eyes ablaze, looking every bit the super villain which is how he fancies himself. His body might break, but his mind is always a whirring motor, piecing together his plan, which David must foil.
When Bruce Willis shaved his head in 1995, something happened to him as an actor, he gained a nobility. People forget what a fine actor Willis has always been, and when he is great it often feels like a surprise. As David, he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, enormous strength but also enormous responsibility. David knows the people of the city have come to depend on him, his family depend on him, and with Glass aware of his secret he must figure out the plan and end it. So great is Willis that I wanted more of him constantly, in fact I wanted an entire film about David and another about Kevin.
The lovely Sarah Paulson is a doctor looking for a comeuppance from the moment she first meets this trio. She speaks to them, at them really, with a smug condescension that will be righted before the film is done. I love her a an actress but she gets exactly what she deserves.
As the tough survivor from the first film, wide eyed Anya-Taylor Joy was outstanding and is back here briefly, much to the delight of Kevin. I wish too, they had given her more to do.
Overall that is the issue with this film. Glass feels under written and far shorter than it was supposed to be. After Split, frankly, we expected a great deal more. That is not to say Glass is a bad film, on the contrary, it is not but it is a very weakly thought out film. If something is good to great, length means nothing to me. Had a Shymalan fleshed out the characters, paid greater attention and detailed both David and Kevin, he would have a truly great film.
The most I can say about Glass is that it does not suck.
We expected greatness after Split, and greatness is not what we get.
A crushing disappointment for those really excited.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.