Superheroes in a Glass House
Don’t Listen to the Critics!
If you were to listen to some critics, Glass is a disorganized mess of sophomoric writing masquerading as cinematic literary greatness when it is merely just another wannabe superhero film based on funnybooks that we should have all stopped reading when we hit puberty. However, if critics were to look past their own pseudo-intellectual prejudices, they would realize that — in reality — nothing could be further from the truth.
Ostensibly Glass is the story about how former security guard David Dunn (Willis) uses his preternatural abilities to track Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), a disturbed man who has some 24 personalities, at least one of which is über-violent, while both are being manipulated by Elijah Price (Jackson). To be sure, what is going on, is actually much deeper, and far more complex than all of that. First, (and just in case you didn’t know) Glass is the third part of an unusual trilogy of M. Night Shyamalan films, that began 19 years ago in 2000 with Unbreakable (where Dunn first squared off against Mr. Glass, then continued (in 2016’s Split) in a surprise cameo when — in the film’s final scene — David Dunn inexplicably appeared, signaling that both films occurred in a shared universe.
Heroes and Villains
With Glass, we start off with The Hoard (the collective of personalities that comprise Kevin — the core personality of the Hoard) holding four cheerleaders captive in an abandoned warehouse (a favorite hideout for funnybook villains), and Dunn walking “patrol” looking for him (it’s apparently only been three weeks since Split). Dunn finds him, locates and frees the girls, then fights with The Beast, only to have both of them captured by the police and brought to the Raven Hill Memorial mental institution (the Ravencroft Institute is a facility for the criminally insane in Marvel Comics) by Dr. Ellie Staple (Paulson). It is there that they discover that a heavily-sedated Elijah is also locked up with them.
A Gathering of Heroes (and Villains)
Dr. Staple informs all three that they are all there because they are each suffering form the delusion that they are superheroes, because they all read comicbooks, but now it is time that they move past these childish delusions (grow up) and accept that — in the real world — there are no such things as superheroes. As Dr. Staple delivers this calmly intonated “truth” in her softly modulated best psychotherapist voice, we can all but imagine her as a better-looking, less smugly-assured Bill Maher mugging for the camera as he tells comicbook fans how adolescently juvenile they are for going to see movies based on comics while thinking that comics are literature. You can see it now, can’t you, with the real Maher sitting just off camera nodding gleefully as she shreds the absurdity of comics and the immaturity of those that read and <gasp> actually believe in them. Only — as the film plays out — we come to learn that (you guessed it) both Maher and Staple are wrong.
The Beast is Loose!
Assembling a Great Cast
Also rejoining the cast are Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke (the only surviving kidnap victim from Split), Spencer Treat Clark reprising his role as the now-grown Joseph Dunn, as well as Charlayne Woodard, reprising her role as Elijah’s mom. Each of these three are connected to one of the three “Supers” (Joseph to his dad, Mrs. Price to her son, and Casey to Kevin). All three of which play pivotal roles in the evolution and “rising and advancing” of the spirit of each to whom they are linked. Each of the “connected” characters act as “Familiars” to their respective “super” grounding them and adding humanity to their characters. Each of the “Supers” needs to grow and evolve (call it Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero's’ Journey”), as having individual connections to their “Familiars” is what ultimately motivates each of them to aspire to greater things.
A Hero's Journey
Dunn isn’t just some circus strongman out to bust heads of ne'er’do’wells, he wants to protect those need protecting and make his son proud of him. Dunn is Stan Lee’s “Hero with feet of clay” — a trait which initially distinguished Marvel’s superheroes from the “Distinguished Competition’s” previous generation of two-dimensional, four-color heroes, marking the dawn of a Silver Age resurgence in comics. Each of Kevin’s various personalities are attempting to protect Kevin from the hurt of the outside world, but it is Kevin’s connection to the also-damaged and vulnerable Casey that ultimately humanizes him. Just as the tortured souls of characters like Ben Grimm (The Fantastic Four’s Thing), and The Hulk found humanity in the loves of the women that loved them (Alicia Masters and Betty Ross, respectively) humanized them and connected them to the world around each of them. And yes, even the villainous Mr. Glass (like Dr. Doom, Magneto and others of their megalomaniac ilk), has a bit of nobility in him (even if he goes about achieving his ends via questionable methodologies), as is connected to the world around him through his doting mother.
The Dr. is in the House
Comics as Literature
So, while Maher and others may see comicbooks (as well as the films and TV shows based upon them) as kiddie fare, they are clearly missing the point that sure, some comics are specifically for kids, while others are simply badly written (as are books, TV and film) there are some that do rise to the level of “literature” well worth consuming. You don’t have to like the books, films, comics, or — one could argue — even Maher himself (or even the people that are fans of each) to acknowledge that they serve a greater purpose in the ultimate scheme of things.
True to the Source
Comics as Source Material
Then to wrap up the comicbook bonifides with a nifty little bow for his film (and reaches beyond the big two of Marvel and DC Comics, into a second-tier comicbook company), Shyamalan, throws in an ending that simply reeks of an extremely popular Dynamite Comics series which…well, that would be telling a tad too much…but we will give you a hint, and tell you that the Dynamite series has been developed for television as an on-going show, and it will be coming to Amazon Prime this year.
Great Heroes Need Great Villains
Building a Better Superhero Universe
Finally, with Glass, what Shyamalan has — quite literally — and very effectively done is seamlessly meshed together three very distinct films and thus performed a much better job of worldbuilding a shared superhero universe than has DC has with all of the superhero films it ever produced. Yes, you read that correctly, M. Night Shyamalan’ trilogy is actually not only cowl and cape above the combined might of virtually every DC theatrical cinematic outing, but he has gone one step farther and addressed Maher’s repeated bashings of funnybook fans, the films they watch, as well as the literary quality of the four-color source material on which they are ultimately based.
Yeah, the film is that good.
© 2019 Robert J Sodaro