Glass review: M. Night Shyamalan's zany take on superheroes one for the faithful - trends-videos


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Glass review: M. Night Shyamalan's zany take on superheroes one for the faithful

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Glass review: M. Night Shyamalan's zany take on superheroes one for the faithful

GLASS M, 129 minutes

M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable in 2000 may not have reached the box office heights of his previous smash The Sixth Sense, but it ranks with the most personal and original of his paranormal thrillers. The tale of a Philadelphia security guard (Bruce Willis) who comes to believe that he has superhuman powers, it's less a triumphant "origin story" than a haunting, ambiguous reflection on loneliness and what it means to be set apart.

Shyamalan is famous for his twist endings, and Unbreakable has an especially memorable one, bringing us to a new understanding of the relationship between Willis' character David Dunn and his friend and mirror image Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a physically frail comic-book fan otherwise known as "Mr Glass".

In an obvious sense, Shyamalan was ahead of his time: back then, few could have predicted the superhero movie would soon emerge as the dominant form of big-screen Hollywood entertainment. This, in itself, is enough to justify the existence of Glass, which takes up the story of Dunn and Price almost 20 years on.

As soon becomes apparent, Glass is far more than a mere sequel. Rather, it's something like Shyamalan's bid to psychoanalyse the entire superhero genre, while constructing his own version of a comic book "extended universe" where characters from different stories are permitted to cross paths.

Dunn and Price now share the spotlight with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) – the central figure from Shyamalan's 2016 film Split – a deranged serial killer with 20 separate personalities, ranging from a lisping nine-year-old to a fearsome entity known simply as the Beast.

Do Dunn, Price and Crumb represent the next stage in human evolution, or are they simply oddballs who have lost the plot? Glass maintains the mystery for as long as possible; for much of the story, all three are confined to an asylum where they're interrogated by a psychologist (Sarah Paulson) who strives to undermine their delusions of grandeur.

Shyamalan, as an artist, has often been accused of similar delusions, and he makes no secret of his identification with Price, a self-proclaimed mastermind bent on manipulating those around him in the manner of a film director. This gives a reflexive edge to Glass, a film about filmmaking in more ways than one.

The asylum is filled with surveillance cameras, and the characters are often filmed head-on, as in a reality show like Big Brother. In an almost hallucinatory way, we're made to feel that Shyamalan is taking us behind the scenes, showing the confessions of weakness which a normal superhero blockbuster would leave out.

Conversely, there's little of the lavish spectacle generally synonymous with the superhero genre. But the film makes a virtue of this absence, building suspense through cunning framing that prompts us to speculate about what lies just out of view, when we're not too distracted by the eye-catching performances of its leading men.

McAvoy has the showiest role, leaping from one set of manic, campy affectations to the next. Willis remains in his usual minimalist mode, but appears more alert and engaged than he has in a while, especially in silent close-ups. As for Jackson, his wheelchair-bound character starts out seemingly catatonic, but gradually assumes authority over the narrative, through his deep, relaxed voice above all.

Despite its lengthy running time and big-name cast, Glass has many of the virtues traditionally associated with the B-movie, and like many B-movies, it will be best appreciated by audiences who value playfulness and imagination over restrictive notions of logic, plausibility and good taste.

All the same, it raises certain questions worth taking seriously. Does the popularity of superhero cinema spring from a masochistic sort of piety, a need to worship a higher power of whatever kind? Or is there some sort of hidden revolutionary potential in a genre that allows fans to imagine acquiring godlike powers of their own?

As always with Shyamalan, it all boils down to a matter of faith. Sceptics, at the climax, will find no shortage of reasons to scoff. Others will be impressed with the film's willingness to follow through on its zany ambition, delivering a version of what Price refers to, pompously but not unreasonably, as the American Sublime.

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