Warning: the following contains minor spoilers for M Night. Shyamalan’s Glass.
After Split surprised audiences in its final minutes, injecting the supernatural into the world M. Night Shyamalan established with 2000’s Unbreakable, a grounded and realistic milieu that asked its audience to consider what our world would look like if superheroes walked among us, the polarizing writer/director is back with another stab at a dramatic and cerebral take on the comic book genre in a Hollywood landscape that has seen superhero films evolve into the mainstream since Unbreakable’s inception.
Glass, the final installment of what Shyamalan has dubbed the Eastrail 177 trilogy, feels much more like a sequel to Unbreakable than it does Split. The film attempts to explore comic book tropes and concepts in the same way that Unbreakable did, only this time, rather than the audience going on a journey with Bruce Willis’ David Dunn and giving us time to question whether the impossible was indeed possible during a climate when the words “superhero film” or “comic book adaptation” brought embarrassment onto a producer’s face, Shyamalan attempts to play into what comic book fans and general audiences are eating up at the box office.
Part of what makes Unbreakable such a masterpiece is the way it humanizes both its hero and villain, as well as its deliberately slow and methodical pacing. It gives you time as the viewer to ponder on the themes and questions Shyamalan presents as you experience the story through David. The brief bit of action as David accepts his role as the hero is raw, subdued, devoid of the fantastical, yet undeniably powerful and heroic. Its climax is rooted in the emotion between David and his son, and the devastation of Elijah’s betrayal revealed in the big twist. Split, on the other hand, is an engaging horror-thriller with characters and performances that turn a good film into a great film. Even without the twist of David at the diner, and the revelation that the film exists in the same universe as Unbreakable, Split would have had a satisfying conclusion seeing its protagonist survive such a horrific experience because of the strength and understanding she had gained through surviving prior unspeakable trauma. Glass finds itself at the intersection of Unbreakable and Split, and has neither the substance of Unbreakable, nor the compelling characters or the thrilling performances of either of its predecessors.
In fact, Glass doesn’t have a main character at all. The film is blocky, with long chunks of time spent isolated with James McAvoy’s villain, who is a ton of fun to watch, but once in the mental hospital, it’s easy to forget David Dunn is just across the hall. Based on the title, the central character would seem to be Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass but not only does he not make his grand entrance until almost halfway through the film (save for a glimpse of his arm at the end of the first act), Jackson doesn’t utter a line of dialogue until the midpoint, a scene in which the film seems to finally find its footing only to then stumble its way to the finish line.
In many ways, Glass is the antithesis to Unbreakable, as it seems like it should be. But with Unbreakable, less was more as you considered the questions the film asked its main character in a grounded world that looked no different than our own. Do superheroes exist? Are the stories we see in comic books based on real people? With Glass, Shyamalan seemed overly concerned with making sure you knew the people you were watching were (or maybe weren’t) superheroes, and that the narrative itself was hitting the same beats seen in comic books, stuffing terms like “The Showdown” and “The Collection of Main Characters” down your throat every chance it could get rather than making it feel like a realistic clash between a hero and a villain in our world.
Glass still tries to be cerebral and heady like Unbreakable, and yet hits you on the nose to make sure you’re still following along, proving it’s not as clever as it thinks it is. Rather than the brilliant subtlety and restraint seen in Unbreakable, Glass attempts to up the ante, trying to play to today’s jam-packed climate of record-breaking superhero blockbusters and be the film neither Unbreakable nor Split could be. After a taste of The Beast up against David Dunn early on, Shyamalan teases a spectacle-filled finale between the two throughout, only to fall flat when the time finally comes. And as with all Shyamalan films, what has audiences talking the most is the film’s big twist. Unfortunately, rather than having one twist with a big impact, Shyamalan stuffs in three twists, one of which is a shock to only a single character and not the audience, while the other two may be the director’s most predictable and least memorable twists yet, leaving much to be desired.
Ultimately, Glass still manages to entertain, especially thanks to James McAvoy whose performance is worth the price of admission alone. But the end of this trilogy feels like a missed opportunity to explore comic book tropes and concepts in a grounded way we’ve never seen before and perhaps a victim of the success and popularity of superhero films themselves. Rather than the pragmatic and humanized approach to the superhero and supernatural genres seen in Unbreakable and Split, Glass instead pushes the thought-provoking questions raised by the previous films to the side at the promise of spectacle, a grand finale that never quite arrives for its main cast, though the resolution for its supporting characters is oddly satisfying.
The Superhero Movies Of 2018, Ranked From Worst To Best
2018 has gone by too fast. It seems like yesterday when the beginning of the new year was upon us, and the advent of having so many superhero movies hitting theaters seemed like a dream come true for every fanboy and fangirl. It’s also funny to look back and remember that although we ended up with a whopping nine major theatrical superhero movies, we almost had eleven. Sadly, Fox delayed both Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants to 2019 instead.
Even with those two films delayed, 2018 was still a massive year not just at the box office, but for the continued advancement of the genre on a number of levels. Whether it was through the cultural significance of a film like Black Panther or the exciting animated adventures of Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, there was no shortage of exciting superhero stories told on the big screen this year.
Here are the 9 theatrical superhero films of 2018, ranked from worst to best. You can start the gallery by clicking “Next.”