Besides my comic book writing on Retcon Punch (RIP), there have only been a few times over the past several years where I have felt compelled to unearth this old WordPress and click-clack away on the keyboard. Usually it’s a reaction to a movie or TV show that is a mixture of frustration, confusion and overall curiosity. And boy oh boy have I found a movie that elicits all of those feelings at once.
M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 film Split was a perfectly fine movie experience, (albeit with a message about victims of abuse that I’m very uncomfortable with). Even if you had given up on Shyamalan for the umpteenth time, you probably showed up to see James McAvoy portraying 23 identities over the course of the film – which was definitely worth the price of admission. Then came the final moments of the movie where it’s revealed that Split takes place in the same universe as 2000’s Unbreakable – Shyamalan loves his needless twists after all.
In recent interviews Shyamalan has told reporters that this crossover had been part of the plan ever since he started writing Unbreakable (Which MUST be true, and completely unrelated to a slew of cinematic flops over the past decade). Screenplays go through many revisions of course, so it’s possible that “The Horde” – McAvoy’s cavalcade of identities – was in the DNA of Unbreakable in some form or another. But…come on dude. This wasn’t your master plan.
Apologies for the long preamble, but I feel a little context is necessary before going into this movie; now Glass itself. Where to begin? To put it mildly, Glass is a deeply flawed movie whose twists betray its own internal logic.
We pick up where Split left off: The Horde is still at large kidnapping and killing, while Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and his son Jacob – playing the Oracle/”man in the chair” role – are trying to find him. David tracks Horde down, they fight, yadda yadda then they are both locked in the same mental institute – you saw the trailers.
Somehow, the local authorities have agreed to allow Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) three days to work with Dunn and The Horde – real name Kevin Wendell Crumb – and get them to realize that they are not special, but are suffering from the VERY common delusion that they are superheroes. Because three days is enough to treat/cure a major psychological ailment, after all. In short, there’s a whole lot of talking until master planner Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) frees Dunn and Crumb to duke it out on the front lawn of the institute.
It’s possible that Glass could have been a great piece of psychological fiction. It’s also possible that M. Night Shyamalan could have planned this oeuvre of “realistic superhero” myth all along. Unfortunately we live in a world where neither of these things are true.
I have only seen Unbreakable once, and honestly can’t remember a lot of it but I know that it is revered and is one of Shyamalan’s respected films. In a time before the bloated superhero movie machine it was very unique – and in many respects still is. But in the time since, audiences have seen countless origin stories, sequels and reboots of the capes and tights set – they are fluent in the language of a superhero tale. So it’s a little tone-deaf when the film approaches its climax and Jacob Dunn and Casey Cooke (Split’s Anya Taylor-Joy) do comic book store “research” figure out what their super-powered co-stars might be up to. Shyamalan presents it as some mythic revelation that “answer lies with superheroes’ parents” or “there will be a big final battle between the hero and the villain.” Now that I think about it, it’s possible that Shyamalan has been working on the Unbreakable/Split/Glass universe for decades, because it seems like he hasn’t been to the movies since 2001.
It’s hard not to read any given Shyamalan film as a rebuke of his critics and a statement of self-adulation. (Remember in Lady in the Water when he had a film critic get violently mauled to death by the big bad wolf??) Having seen Glass, I don’t think that Shyamalan likes superhero movies all that much. And believe me, though I have seen every major superhero movie in recent memory, I am not their champion. If I understood batting averages (or math) I would say that the genre has had more misses than hits overall. Unlike me however, I get the sense that Shyamalan haaaaaaates superhero movies as a whole.
Shyamalan has always fancied himself a modern-day Hitchcock, inserting himself into his own films. Though he appears in Glass as an inquisitive customer of Dunn Home Security, I think that Shyamalan’s true avatar in the movie is Paulson’s Dr. Staple. An exhausting amount of the movie is spent focusing on Dr. Staple trying to convince Dunn, Crumb and Glass that their powers are not real. Which would be a novel story if say, all of us and the characters knew that that was 100% not the case.
Staple completely refutes Jacob and Casey as they spout off their comic book research as if it were gospel to their current situation. She essentially says “superheroes are stupid and you are stupid for liking them!” In one of the final twists of the movie we discover that Staple works for some secret group of people with shamrock tattoos who seek out the super-powered and hide their existence for the world. Her goal is accomplished by the end of the film, as McAvoy’s character dies from a gut shot, Jackson’s dies from broken bones and internal injuries and Willis’ drowns…in a fucking puddle.
Night Shyamalan did it: he killed the superhero movie. There shall be no more.
- Shyamalan has no idea how to film action. The majority of the fights between Willis and McAvoy are shot from underneath Willis’ chin, as if he’s wearing a GoPro.
- David Dunn – the unbreakable strongman – is arrested and put in chains. The Horde – an insane serial killer – is marched in with zero restraints.
- The Horde’s cell is no bigger than my college dorm room, and the only security precautions taken are a set of strobe lights set to shift him to different personalities.
- An orderly uses this security measure after Horde tries to attack him. Instead of leaving the room, said orderly keeps flashing lights and telling Mr. Split to “stop talking!”
- Literally less than 10 people work at this hospital.
- Dr. Staples tells multiple people how the psychiatric condition of “thinking you’re a superhero” is more common than you’d think
- Dr. Staples – ostensibly a medical health practitioner – allows Casey – a former victim of both sexual abuse and kidnapping – to physically touch the man who kidnapped her.
- David Dunn and The Horde’s rooms are across the hall from one another because of course they are.
- Shyamalan uses deleted scenes from Unbreakable, as well as a new scene where David Dunn tells his wife (who is shot from behind, so we don’t see her face) that he has something to tell her. We never find out what this is and his wife died of cancer off camera.
- No comic book store has separate “heroes” and “villains” sections. NONE.
- Kevin Wendell Crumb’s dad was on the same train that David Dunn was in Unbreakable because of course they were.
- Both this movie and Split seem to insist on using the full name “Kevin Wendell Crumb”, so I must use it too.
- Inexplicably, Shyamalan waits until the climax of the movie to show that Mr. Glass – the titular villain of the movie – has gross teeth.
- There is a scene where Anya Taylor-Joy is talking to Sarah Paulson, and it is clearly just a stand-in with red hair shot from behind, with Sarah Paulson ADR.
- Chekhov’s puddle
- Dr. Staples lets David touch her so he can get a vision of her backstory with the Shamrock Gang. The vision is a painfully long scene about a secret society at a restaurant waiting for their server to leave the room.
- For some reason Jacob Dunn, Casey Cooke and Mr. Glass’ mom become pals at the end of the movie. Mr. Glass emailed them all video footage of the final battle that Staples thought she deleted. They upload it to the internet and expect it all to change. Because when you put something on the internet, everyone sees it instantly, and it changes everything.