There’s a new trailer for the next “Spider-Man” movie knockin’ ‘round the Internet that features Marvel’s tried-and-true formula: focus group-approved humor, likable characters, lifeless special effects, CGI things fighting other CGI things.
It’s doesn’t look bad. It looks like the same old thing. Like another widget on the Marvel assembly line.
It’s a deflating reminder that pop culture is caught in its dull loop, doomed to repeat the same movies (with minor variations) over and over again for the indefinite future. It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the superhero movie.
And yet here comes M. Night Shyamalan’s unabashedly bonkers “Glass,” the best and most different superhero film I’ve seen since “Logan.”
Where other superhero movies play it safe, “Glass” goes out on a limb. Where other superhero movies undercut their ridiculousness with jokes, “Glass” doubles down on its absurdity. This is a movie that believes in itself.
Sign up for the Go newsletter
This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready.
“Glass” is the final film in the trilogy that started with “Unbreakable” and “Split.” The latter film ended with the Shyamalanian twist that its serial-killer superhuman with multiple personalities (James McAvoy) exists in the same Philadelphia as Bruce Willis’ stoic strongman and Samuel L. Jackson’s evil mastermind.
Now “Glass” brings them all together. And in a way that honors “Unbreakable” and “Split” (two of Shyamalan’s best) while simultaneously frustrating viewer expectations. (The third act will be especially polarizing.)
At first, “Glass” seems like it’s going to go a fairly conventional route: hero confronts villain in empty warehouse. But then it takes a turn. Things get weird.
This is a superhero movie that takes place mostly in a psychiatric ward. The big showdown is in a parking lot. The most suspenseful action sequence involves a man dropping a flashlight.
“Glass” is more talky than action-packed. It demands that you’ve recently seen its two predecessors to understand it. It tells you it’s going to do one thing, then does another. Then does another.
Working around the constraints of his relatively tight budget ($20 million, about a tenth the cost of “Aquaman”), Shyamalan uses actual filmmaking instead of computer animation. He conveys the superpowers inventively, grounding them in real life.
Bruce Willis’ strength, for instance, is illustrated in a scene in which he’s pushing back against a half-dozen members of a fully armed S.W.A.T. team. Shyamalan and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis shoot the scene from the legs down, showing one pair of legs successfully push back against six. It’s so simple. It’s a special effect that could have been achieved 100 years ago.
Shyamalan, for all his lunacy and narcissism, never lost his ability to effectively stage a scene or make a memorable visual. There’s an undeniable craft here that gives the film ballast, even when it goes full-on “Looney Tunes” in its final act.
There are about 50 things in “Glass” that one could rightfully call stupid or insane. Its blending of genres and tropes shouldn’t work (indeed, it has not worked for most critics). Shyamalan takes some big swings — the movie has three twist endings.
He’s a director who lives out on a limb, which is why his movies are either very bad or very good and rarely fall somewhere in between.
Even at his worst, Shyamalan’s earnestness has remained compelling. He believes in a world where comic books serve as civilization’s secret history. Where characters uncover decades-old mysteries on Reddit forums. And where superhero movies take place in psychiatric wards with pink rooms.
“Glass” serves as a weird meta-critique of the comic book genre but also embraces it. The thrust of the film’s narrative involves a psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson) trying to convince our trio that they’re not special. That what they think are superpowers are merely delusions of grandeur.
The catharsis is these men rediscovering their powers to break free of their constraints (physical and mental), to defy those who seek to make them conform to a world without wonder. I have little doubt that Shyamalan relates to these men — self-important and misunderstood outliers struggling to express their unique gifts.
When in the third act Bruce Willis once again dons his rain poncho, and it flows heroically down his back (like a cape) and the “Superman”-style score starts up on the soundtrack, while Samuel L. Jackson delivers a supervillain’s monologue that dissects the comic book genre, Shyamalan’s career and the movie itself … it’s insane and a little stupid, but it is most certainly not the same old thing.