Sunday, 27 January 2019

Glass (2019) - Movie Review

For all of M. Night Shyamalan’s cinematic faults, from the incredibly goofy like The Happening to the phenomenally condescending like Devil to the outright banal like After Earth, there is one thing that can never be taken away from him: He knows superheroes. With Unbreakable, he established a world where superheroes and supervillains exist in a world all too similar to our own. With Split, he introduced a more forcefully psychological touch to that world, unveiling another supervillain whose entire existence is owed to the way the mind processes trauma. And with Glass, he brings both halves together to create a truly astounding piece of superhero fiction.

The film looks amazing right off the bat, maintaining the heavily colour-coded aesthetic of the previous installments. Green for the Overseer, purple for Mr. Glass, and sandy yellow for the Horde; throughout the film, these colours whirl and distort and blend in a way that makes for remarkable visual storytelling. Shining brightly at the point where their respective characters are at their strongest, and paled when they are their weakest.

Not only that, its use both in the costuming and the set design allows for rather revealing moments regarding all the characters involved, whether it’s the main three, what can charitably be called their sidekicks through the return of Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey from Split, and David’s son Joseph and Elijah’s mother from Unbreakable, or even the inclusion of Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Staple. Combined with how the more action-oriented moments are framed, it makes for some striking moments that help sell the existence of the super-powered while keeping it grounded in Shyamalan’s more down-to-earth universe.

Now, much like with Split, this film’s venture into the world of the psychological alongside that of the comic book-inspired supernatural has some cracks in its foundation… supposedly. I honestly didn’t get the numerous hot takes about how these films glorify trauma as a superpower all on its own, which is… well, not only is it wrong, it’s more than a little telling of how the mainstream treats the topic of mental health. This is something that crops up in the film proper, through the efforts of Dr. Staple to convince the Overseer, the Horde and Mr. Glass that they are not special, but instead suffering from trauma. While part of me wants to lambast how this is depicted on-screen, coming across as one of the lamer attempts at Grant Morrison-style deconstruction of superhero tropes I’ve seen, that itself ends up missing the larger point of what’s going on here.

Let’s quickly break down the three main characters. David Dunn, the Overseer, the man who cannot be broken and has a sixth sense for those who break others. Kevin Wendell Crumb, the Horde, the man who was broken as a child and manifested the Beast as a means to protect himself from that (the concept of a guardian personality, who helps the host through their pain, is one of the more common aspects of DID, both in the mainstream and in its psychiatric understanding), a strong creature who seeks to protect the broken like his host. And then there’s Elijah Price, Mr. Glass, the comic book geek who was so determined to figure out his place in the world, to prove that he wasn’t just a mistake, that he orchestrated terrorist acts just so he could find his opposite and his reason for being. The man who keeps breaking and wanted to know why.

This trilogy thus far has tangled with notions of moral greyness, as do most works of superhero fiction, and it’s here where that comes to a head. Throughout the bulk of the film, ideas of faith and self-belief form the core of the narrative, with Dr. Staple trying to convince the three that their own versions of self-belief are not reality but delusion. But looking at the history of superheroes, stretching all the way back to the Golden Age, belief is a major part of the mythos. The idea that extraordinary people exist who can do things normally reserved for the likes of gods in ancient mythology, those who show humanity at its most bizarre and extreme but also at its most powerful. Belief in the self is what creates a hero, and belief in them by the people is what creates hope.

What I’m getting at with all this is how the title character Mr. Glass (and to a lesser extent the Horde) becomes more of an anti-hero than a straight-up villain. He exists as a means of keeping the world in balance, providing a foe for the Overseer to battle and create legend, but forces are at work to try and keep that from the populace. The idea of humans actively resisting the mere idea of the superpowered is another old-school trope of the genre, going all the way back to the creation of villains like Lex Luthor who saw humanity as not needing the supremacy of the super to keep them safe.

It takes elements of faith that have always followed M. Night Shyamalan’s body of work, and infuses it into the superhero mythos to create a surprisingly inspiring story about how the world tries to shut out those who aren’t ‘normal’ and how, even for the true bastards on the superpowered spectrum, they exist in the world for a reason, whether it’s to give the people something to fear or something to live up to. This trilogy exists as the alternative to what has become the norm for superhero fiction at the cinema, and with this finale, Shyamalan shows an understanding of the genre and its inner workings that stands up there with the highest points of both Marvel and DC.

Now, with all of this said, this is still Shyamalan we’re talking about here: His greatest faults make for the stuff of bad movie legend, and even his better works still end up polarising audiences. And from what I’ve seen already, this film is no exception. Whether this film will appeal to you as it did to me isn’t easy to discern, but I will say this much: No matter what reaction this film or its marketing ultimately leave you with, it still deserves at least one chance to prove its worth.

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