Reflecting On The Superhero Genre With A New Lens
By Casey Lee
When M. Night Shyamalan made a superhero movie in 2000, it was a weird time to be making superhero films with even a Marvel or DC property, much less for an originally devised and admittedly bizarre one like Unbreakable. Fast forward to almost two decades later, times sure have changed for superheroes. When Split unveiled its surprising ending and connection to Unbreakable, it could be said that it was Shyamalan trying to cash in on the superhero bandwagon several years too late. However, with Glass being the promised ending to his Eastrail 177 trilogy that he had conceived since Unbreakable, Shyamalan might have created a niche universe that would endure and be looked back upon, when the golden age of superhero movies has passed.
Glass continues the tradition of being titled after its featured character, this time being brittle-boned Elijah Price, reprised by Samuel L. Jackson, even though he barely mutters a line until a good chunk into the second act. As James McAvoy's the Horde is unleashed into the wild, and Bruce Willis' David Dunn gets more comfortable with his invincible powers, the two eventually head into a collision course. The showdown occurs, but the two are quickly captured and sent into a mental facility, where Elijah has already been kept captive. Then, they had their abilities assessed by Sarah Paulson, who specialises in the field of self-proclaimed powers.
This is the gamut and setting of Glass. As each character is given intrusive assessments and diagnosis that their powers are the product of their unwavering faith in them, rather than something that was inherently bestowed upon them for a purpose. It is a drawn-out mind game of seeding doubt and planning a prison breakout, happening in tandem. The proceedings are slow and cryptic, even by Shyamalan's standards, and may even be off-putting because so little happens in the physical space, and there's little to challenge in the mental space. Most of it is padded with Willis and McAvoy performing their shtick, but even McAvoy is pushed to his limits to sustain his presence with the 24 personalities inside of him. Needless to say, Glass relies heavily on its Shyamalan twist that packs quite a one-two punch, but sitting through to get there may not justify the twisted ending.
The reception towards Glass may be a sign of the times. The ending may not be what most have hoped for, and the consequences could be against the zeitgeist. But Shyamalan has bravely done what he wanted to do, without pandering to a more power-hungry superhero crowd. The choices made in Glass, not just bookend Shyamalan’s strange superhero venture, but ask questions that we may not think is significant now. Maybe two decades from now, when superhero movies are once again strange, we would only realize why Glass did what it had to do, just as bizarre as Elijah’s plans were. For now, it would have to do as another misunderstood work of Shyamalan.