Rated PG-13 for all of the scary stuff involving The Beast. I mean, Split was PG-13. Unbreakable was PG-13. If Unbreakable could potentially water down the very disturbing Split, I can easily see this movie being PG-13. There is some blood and there is some very troubling violence, especially the casual murder of hospital staff. Death is something that isn't absent from this world, so major characters are at risk. Similarly, Mr. Glass's condition means that you have to get comfortable with seeing broken bones on both the adult and flashback versions of Elijah. PG-13 is pretty accurate.
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
When I was real young, when only the OG Star Wars trilogy, pre-Special Editions, existed, I remember that we would talk about the things we heard about the future of the franchise. When the VHS tapes started listing the first Star Wars film as "Episode IV: A New Hope", we started gossiping. "George Lucas will probably make a prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy." When I was in high school, I remember similar voices murmuring about a potential Unbreakable trilogy. We knew that Unbreakable didn't have the box office to carry a franchise, but we hoped. The ending of Unbreakable meant that we were going to see the poncho man fighting super villains and it was going to be awesome. Well, it's 2020. Besides the fact that the sky is Blade Runner red now and I'm borderline teaching with a biohazard suit, there are a boatload of Star Wars movies and now we finally have the trilogy of Unbreakable movies.
I mean, when I found out that Split was a secret sequel to Unbreakable, my hopes were raised pretty high. I think it was Facebook that spoiled the end of that movie for me. It wasn't even my friends. It was some random algorithm that posted a link to saying "How M. Night Shyamalan made Split a sequel to REDACTED." It didn't take very long to figure out what that was going to be. But Split proved that there was something else to say about the role of superhero fantasy. The greatest part of Split is that we didn't even know that we were getting preached to. In Unbreakable, Elijah goes into this speech about how there are two kinds of villains. There's the physical villain, who is a challenge for the hero. But then there is the mental villain, who is the real threat. While watching Split, because Shyamalan never brought David Dunn into the equation until the last possible second, we have all of this focus on the origins of a supervillain. While not a perfect film (I still enjoy Unbreakable better), Split does right what every origin story does wrong. Most origin stories tend to devote so much time to the protagonist's origin story that it shortchanges the villain. Kevin / The Beast, instead, gets all of the attention. He's this force that drives the film.
Which brings us to Glass, I suppose. See, those early rumors of an Unbreakable trilogy were true. Shyamalan wanted to have three movies exploring the world of Unbreakable. In the first film, he would discuss the psychology of the hero. In the second film, he would discuss the psychology of a villain. But in the third film, it has to act as a conclusion to this world. If the first two films are about the psychology of the characters, what new ground would Glass tread? The answer is...not much. What made the first two films so great is that they weren't about the glitz and glamour of superheroics. It was a world where superherodom was just being discovered and that's what was interesting? What would happen if the unimaginable fantasy realm started becoming plausible? When Superman rescues Lois Lane from a falling helicopter in Donner's film, it's this giant leap forward. We go from a world without superheroes to a world with brightly colored flying people. But Unbreakable and Split stress that the world is fundamentally the same, but slightly different.
So when we talk about Glass, there's really nothing much more to say. I feel like Shyamalan is desperately trying to say something profound with this movie. The cool part is that the film does play with making the audience second guess everything that they know to be true. After all, these aren't established characters that we have been following for decades. It is plausible that we have been using our confirmation bias to want these characters to be special. But we as an audience know that stripping these characters of what makes them special is a profoundly disappointing and borderline impossible way to make a film satisfying. So if the first two films were about stripping away what makes a superhero movie a superhero movie, Glass is embracing everything that makes a superhero movie what it is.
The problem is, we have superhero movies. We have amazing superhero movies now. We have superhero movies that make us question the value of cinema because they're so good. With movies like The Dark Knight and Avengers: Endgame, these movies have broken free of any pre-determined value categories because they are engaging. So when a movie like Glass happens, it seems kind of quaint. This is a superhero grudge match that just seems kind of piddly. Shyamalan has created a world where flash can't actually be that flashy. So a grudge match between David Dunn and The Beast is fun, but it really feels kind of anti-climactic. To do something bigger would be a betrayal of everything that went into making the first two films. But that's kind of what we need for the finale of a trilogy. The reason that a lot of "Part 3s" are lame is that they need us to rethink everything we've experienced going into what we've seen. It needs to imply that with the first two movies, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." But Glass is simply a watered down (pun intended) version of things we've seen in the previous two films. If anything, the movie turns some of the characters into caricatures of other franchises.
It's so odd that this film is called Glass. I know that we find out that Elijah is the connecting thread between all of the major characters in the story. But that connection is really artificial. It's a connection because Shyamalan simply tells us that it is a connection. Also, out of the three big characters, Sam Jackson has the least to do in the film. He spends the entire first half of the movie faking being catatonic. But really, he's just being Lex Luthor. He's the villain who sews chaos for the hero of the story. He's a genius wrapped inside of an even bigger genius. That's a fun character in certain settings, but it also isn't the Elijah of Unbreakable. The Elijah of Unbreakable is a deeply sympathetic villain. While he knows that he's the villain of the piece, it's something that he feels is thrust upon him by fate. He is hesitant to be the villain because he knows the greater good of his actions. Because Mr. Glass is the villain of the piece, it is meant to prompt a rise in heroes. It's the entire Reverse Flash thing, but from the comics not the TV show.
But Elijah in Glass is more concerned with being right. Unbreakable Elijah is on a crusade to awaken superheroes at any cost. Glass Elijah wants to see a good, old-fashioned superhero fight. He also has changed his theory. Rather than saying that there is one special hero and one special villain, he believes that there's a glut of superheroes waiting to be awakened. He wants the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the real world. It makes him really villainous, which is kind of disappointing. He becomes what Mr. Freeze is after a while. In Batman: The Animated Series, Mr. Freeze was this character who was completely sympathetic. But when he starts robbing banks over time and just trying to make the world cold, he became just like every other villain. Elijah in Glass becomes the later version of Mr. Freeze. Sure, his scheming is kind of cool and I love plans-inside-of-plans, but there's almost a cackling that happens when he's committing atrocities.
When the first Matrix movie ended, Neo flies off. It is implied that he is going to liberate humanity from the prison that is the titular Matrix. We really don't need to know how he's going to do it. The ending implies that he's going to be successful. But the lizard brain within us really wants to see super-Neo fighting robots. That drive to see that happen is fun...until we actually see it. While I love that Split returned us to the world of Unbreakable, it wasn't cool because we got to see David Dunn fight The Beast. It was cool because Shyamalan had something cool to say about monsters. The super fight in our mind is always going to be cooler than the actual thing. (Okay, except for the Endgame final battle. That fight owns.) For all of its attempt to talk about secret societies, nobody really cares about that stuff. It's just fluff and an attempt to talk about some of the more obscure comic book tropes. There's nothing about the human condition that really allows us to latch onto anything.
I want to talk about the death of characters. SPOILER FOR AN ALREADY SPOILER-LADEN BLOG ENTRY. The trio dying at the end is an attempt to put a cap on this franchise, but it just reads really wrong. Mr. Glass dying, that kind of makes sense. He messed with The Beast and it is an appropriate punishment. His death also reads like Moriarty's death on Sherlock: It was always part of the plan. That's fine. The Beast dying is a bummer, but it also reads like the early days of superhero cinema. But David's death is borderline stupid. It reads more like "Bruce Willis is done playing this part" than needed for the story to evolve. It is completely blah. It is one of the most bummer deaths in film because it really kind of comes out of nowhere. That secret society wasn't established. He dies in a pathetic way. There's nothing sacrificial about his death. And Elijah's cryptic comment "This is the origin story" is silly, because it doesn't really read like an origin story. Sure, it might awaken the world to the existence of superheroes, but that doesn't make it an origin story. (I suppose every story is an origin story for someone.) Death should have weight and David's death just feels blah. Also, if Shyamalan is obsessed with his own made up rules about comic book tropes, why doesn't David resurrect? I mean, even Zack Snyder got that right with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. A hero never dying is so central to comic book formula that his death just seems to spit in the face of what the first two films are saying. David nearly drowns at the bottom of a pool as a child, and comes back. So, this time he drowns in a dirty hole. What is the message of that?
But at the end of the day, Glass is more watchable than people make out. The thing I was saying about "Part 3" is that I always enjoy the movie for the spectacle of it. Yeah, they tend to be pretty weak in a lot of cases, but there's still time with characters we like. I wish that Glass had more weight, but it is completely a watchable film. Shyamalan is a pretty talented filmmaker who is always trying to mine the same well. The more he returns, the weaker he gets.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.