Comic-books. Superheroes. Villains. They are undoubtedly the things dominating modern media, with characters in capes and leotards flying around saving the world on just about every screen. Huge studios like DC and Marvel have huge superhero campaigns planned out decades in advance, whilst little children everywhere model themselves after their favourite protagonists.
Just as painstakingly as I am describing the place the comic-book genre has taken among modern media, so too has M. Night Shyamalan in making the audience acutely aware that Glass, is a comic-book film analysing our relationship with… comic books. The story follows three super-powered humans who are thrust into a mental facility under the watchful gaze of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), forced to reckon with their potential normality and come face-to-face with their delusions of grandeur. Throughout, Shyamalan provides a (somewhat) interesting commentary on our relationship with comic-book heroes (and villains) in a very meta-analysis of our need to save and be saved.
Of course, all of these heroes we have seen before. In 2000’s Unbreakable, Shyamalan introduced us to the impenetrable David Dunn (Bruce Willis), sole survivor of a devastating train wreck caused by the ingeniously evil Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), whose bones are as brittle as, well, glass. In 2017 and via a different studio, Split was released and we met Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a crazed individual grappling with his own anxieties and traumas through multiple personality disorder, each alter as distinct from the next, including their fearsome leader, The Beast.
Besides from Mr. Glass practically saying the words ‘comic book’ every other sentence, I enjoyed the film immensely. The action scenes were fantastic, with huge death-defying stunts from Willis and McAvoy, clever schemes from Jackson, and a serene power held by Paulson throughout. At times however, it was far too meta. There’s commenting on society, and then there’s being heavy handed with it. So much so that it made characters like Glass, a deeply intelligent man, feel 2-dimensional. On the other hand, I can certainly see why Shyamalan might want to make these characters seem 2-dimensional to fit in with his comic book vibe.
Unlike many comic-book tales however, there wasn’t a clear division of good and evil. No one was truly either one. David Dunn saved people’s lives, but as a vigilante through violence and his own warped sense of justice. Glass killed people and used lives as his own pawns to manipulate and throw away at will, but at the same time he just wanted to reveal the truth to the world, that he and the others like him existed. Kevin is the most obvious example of all. Each of his alters is a separate personality with their own intentions and desires, some evil, some misguided, and some pure. Kevin Wendell Crumb himself wanted no part of what his body had been forced to do.
And then there’s Dr. Ellie Staple. Mysterious, but trying to help these three people deal with their problems to help not only them, but the world. She seems to be a ‘good’ person, but a big reveal at the end shows that her intentions were fueled by something else entirely…
The cinematography was excellent and dynamic, truly thrusting you right into the situation and integrating you in with what was happening. I loved how Shyamalan chose a colour scheme for each of the main characters, one that followed them into their homes and families. Speaking on his choices, Shyamalan said he chose green for David Dunn to represent life giving, with his role as ‘The Overseer’ seeing him protect life. David wears green almost all the time, as does his son. His business is in green, and of course his signature overcoat is green too.
Mustard yellow was chosen for The Beast to represent his role as the Evangelist, taken from that of a monk. Not only do we see this colour in what he wears, but more and more so in Casey, his victim-turned-friend. For Glass, it was purple, a majestic and royal colour meant to represent his importance as the antagonist and main character of Glass. His mother follows the same colour scheme as him, wearing purple clothes and decorating her house in purple also.
Shyamalan’s use of colour is echoed throughout the film, used to represent the characters belief in their ‘super’ness. As their belief strengthens, so does the colour, but as it wanes, their world becomes more monochromatic. The best example of this is seen in the room where Dr. Ellie Staples treats them. A room where their beliefs are challenged and they are forced to entertain the possibility that they are just… normal. It’s a faint shade of pink, red fading to white. Like the three ‘supers’, Ellie’s outfit also represents her place in the film, often wearing muted colours like greys and light browns to represent normalcy and her role of convincing them that they are not supernatural.
One thing about Glass that I just cannot put to rest is my feelings towards the relationship portrayed between Casey and Kevin. I am concerned that Glass dangerously romanticises victims forgiving their abusers – let’s not forget that Kevin’s alters kidnapped Casey and locked her away under the threat of death, killing her friends and forcing her to fight to escape. However, I can also somewhat understand her sympathy towards him – they definitely went through something together, and that can cause certain emotions that are hard to swallow, but I can’t help but think that most of her attitude towards Kevin felt forced and unnatural…
A word also has to be said for the astounding talent that came from the actors. His portrayal of Kevin Wendell Crumb earned McAvoy huge praise after Split in 2017, and seeing it again in Glass was an absolute testament to his acting ability. Whole conversations unfolded in front of you just between his characters, with seamless transitions into each one that even acting god Samuel L. Jackson gave McAvoy high praise for his efforts. Both Jackson and Willis showed remarkable ease at slipping into old roles after nearly two decades, making the time gap between now and Unbreakable feel natural and realistic.
Despite it’s foibles, I believe that overall Glass is a good film well worth seeing. It’s not meant to have the most concrete and compelling plot of the 21st century – what comic-book does? But it’s 2 hours of mystery, intrigue and action, topped up with plenty of connections interweaving the last two films that would satisfy any easter egg fiend like myself.