It’s no secret, that we’re excited for M.Night Shyamalan’s Glass, it’s been awaited with bated breath since 2016. I remember the first time watching in theatres with fellow cinephile and news junkie, Jeremy Alexander. We initially thought we’d go into Split expecting the film to be crushed under the weight of its absurdly ambitious premise. We were hellbent on having a good time with this film, laughing our butts off a’la Venom. Turns out, we actually were having a good time. UNIRONICALLY. We were thoroughly invested in the film, namely McAvoy’s performance as Kevin Wendell, a man with 23 personalities in his head. The film had a surreal hold on me, no matter how odd or unorthodox it was, I just couldn’t take my eyes away from it. It was like watching somebody make the world’s largest pizza. You can’t believe it could work until you see it. Then, the ending happened and we lost our collective minds. Bruce Willis’ David Dunn from Unbreakable made an appearance. At that moment, my friend leaned over and whispered “Holy shit, it’s a Shyamalanverse…Split is a supervillain origin story!”
Though the film was not without its flaws, the idea of a comic-book film wrapped in the guise of a psychological horror and thriller was utterly mind blowing. We’ve seen origin stories before for heroes and anti-heroes but this was the first legitimate comic book film with a villain at the centre. What a brilliant way to build the character as a legitimate threat by actually framing him in the lens of a horror movie monster. Now that’s Shyamalan ingenuity right there. So with that in mind, we honestly believe he’s not done yet. Oh no, the master of twists has a lot more up his sleeves. With Glass soon to breaking into theatres, we can think of no better time to speculate on Glass is just the comic-book film we need right now.
New Ground For The Genre
Based on the trailer, the setup for Glass seems to be following the lead of a common strain superhero narratives. An evil rises and it’s up to an old hero to come out of retirement to stop it. One can’t even draw a neo-western theme from it like one would with a film like Logan because Dunn seems to be doing it out of his own volition. While Glass doesn’t seem to adhering to Logan’s story structure, an element of the film that is present in Glass would metatextual elements of a comic-book within a comic-book film. French literature theorist Gerard Genette discusses about the concept of metatextuality in his book Introduction à l’architexte (The Architext: An Introduction). In essence, a metatext is a text, like a film, that is a commentary or critique of another text of the same genre. In this case, Glass seems to be making a pretty bold statement about the state of superhero films today.
It has us, a post-MCU audience reckon with the reality of the film that views people who fit the archetype of a typical comic-book film’s dramatis personae as mental patients, diagnosed with delusions of grandeur. There’s little doubt that comic-book films are ingrained in our cultural psyche. The film being aware takes a grounded approach in deconstructing how ordinary people would honestly perceive people who actually adopted this trend as a worldview. At the same time, the film contains the tropes of the genre but twisted ever so slightly to the side. Instead of heroes coming together, it is the brittle-bone genius Elijah Price aka Mr Glass and the Kevin Wendell in the form of his monstrous persona, the Beast that teams up.
The film seems to be centred a villain protagonist once again with the title taking after Mr Glass. I’m telling man, Shyamalan is on some next level shit. First he subverts our expectation by giving us a comic-book film in the form of a psychological thriller and now he’s doing a metatext on the genre! Then again, there’s always the possibility that Glass does far too little to truly break the genre or becomes far too pretentious to present its subject matter effectively. But if does hit the sweet spot, the implications are dizzying.
With A Great Message Comes Great Power
Let’s be real here, even if the Shyamalanverse takes off, it sincerely doubt it’ll pose much of a threat to Disney’s Marvel to Warner Bros. DC. There’s no toppling their monopoly this late in the game but I suspect that isn’t Mr Shyamalan’s aim at all. Rather than trying to muscle into the territory of ever growing empires, the man is trying to carve new ground in the genre. If anything, his successes are more cultural than they are commercial, though the latter would most definitely be a factor. We’ve seen deconstructions of the superhero mythos before via the Deadpool films but it still lands within the confines of parody. Meaning it addresses the tropes while at the same time affirming it. Shyamalan on the other hand is genuinely tackling the concept of the superhero narrative as a worldview, not as a form escapism. Glass may even a satire of it.
In his interview with MTV during last year’s comic-con, Shyamalan criticizes how the comic-book film industry makes films to set up sequels and he in turn subverts that trend, stating “I always thought of the concept of making a movie that was a sequel but you don’t tell them it’s a sequel.” He further explains that it’s the “opposite of selling movies in Hollywood which is the reason to make a sequel because it’s pre-sold”. A sentiment, we share here as well. Shyamalan also doesn’t shy away from the ambiguity of whether his characters are super-beings or just ordinary people who have taken this worldview to its natural extreme. I mean they are in an asylum. This is a refreshing take on the genre and a timely one as well, in a world that is saturated with comic-book films.
Ultimately, we hope that Glass is successful in delivering a poignant examination of our current cultural climate in the most entertaining way possible. Through Split, Shyamalan restored the supremacy of character development and creative storytelling over commercial value. He could have marketed it as a sequel to Unbreakable but chose not to. Based on trailers and interviews so far, it looks like Shyamalan is about do it once more but this time on a much larger scale. Glass is set to hit theatres January 18th this year. Come on Shyamalan, show the world what you can do!