James McAvoy in Glass
James McAvoy in Glass

Every Thursday, TMINE reviews two movies, carefully avoiding infringing a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick

Yes, as previewed last week, Orange Wednesdays is now Orange Thursdays and the two movies we’re going to look at this week are:

  • Glass (2019): M Night Shyamalan’s sequel to Split (2016). And maybe another movie. Shhh!
  • Snowpiercer (2014): Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation of French graphic novel Le Transperceneige

One of those stars a well known superhero, the other is about superheroes. Seriously, it is getting so hard to avoid talking about superheroes when talking about movies.

Glass (2019)

Glass (2019)

Available in iTunes et al

Three weeks have passed since the kidnapping of three young women by Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) in Split. Meanwhile, Unbreakable‘s superhumanly strong David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) track down Kevin to an abandoned factory where he has captured four cheerleaders, but David is confronted and attacked by McAvoy’s superhuman personality ‘the Beast’.

Their battle is interrupted by a group of police officers led by Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who places both men in Raven Hill Memorial Mental Institution. David’s destined foe and terrorist – Elijah Price/Mr Glass (Samuel L Jackson) – is also being held there.

Staple explains that her job is to convince those who believe they are superhuman that in fact they are simply suffering delusions of grandeur. Is she right? Will she succeed?

Glass
Samuel L Jackson, James McAvoy and Bruce Willis in Glass

Broken

For a time, Unbreakable was the definitive way to do an adult superhero movie: unshowy, character-driven, emotionally smart and an intelligent plot. While it wasn’t flawless, with Bruce Willis apparently being the one man in America who doesn’t know exactly how much he can bench-press (how on earth did he decide on his rep weight without knowing his one rep max?), in many ways it was a better movie than Shyamalan’s more famous Sixth Sense and a smarter superhero movie than the then-best X-Men.

Of course, Shyamalan’s movies slowly began to descend into hackwork, culminating in the dreadful The Last Airbender. So when Split came out and turned out to be pretty good, my hopes were up for Glass, particularly since the ending of Split revealed it was set in the same movie universe as Unbreakable and Glass was going to be a sequel to both movies.

I really wanted to love Glass. I really want to fall back in love with M Night Shyamalan’s work. Unfortunately, I didn’t and I can’t.

Which isn’t to say that Glass is dreadful, only that it’s disappointing.

Samuel L Jackson in Glass
Samuel L Jackson in Glass

Almost a classic

Glass starts off well, bringing us up to date with Bruce Willis’s character and what’s happened to him and his family since Unbreakable. All of that is done with the some emotional maturity and fun, as well as slow visual formality, for which Shyamalan is famous.

And that continues to be the tone of the movie as McAvoy is introduced and the two confront one another. Here, Shyamalan proves that he can do fight scenes, too, which you might have been wondering about if you saw The Last Airbender.

Once Willis and McAvoy are locked up with Jackson, everything continues as before and Shyamalan is able to start discussing the same themes he discussed in Unbreakable: the nature of comics, their relevance to society and what they say about us. He’s also able to highlight what he never really made explicit in Unbreakable: Jackson is supposed to be an evil genius, not just a deluded man who makes terrible decisions as a result of his delusion.

And again, he does well at this. He even gets to feed in deleted scenes from Unbreakable to give us flashbacks. McAvoy is brilliant in all his roles; Willis is dependable; Jackson is… Jackson. For a while, Glass looks like it’s going to be a classic.

James McAvoy in Glass
James McAvoy in Glass

The wrong twist

Unfortunately, where it all goes to seed is when he tries to give us one of his trademark twists at the end – and it’s the wrong twist, since he reveals (spoiler alert) Sarah Paulson is part of a secret group who have been killing off superheroes and supervillains so as to maintain societal stability . It’s a twist for the sake of it.

What’s worse is that he (spoiler alert) kills off all the characters we liked and he does so before they’ve actually had a chance to do much. I really wanted to see Bruce Willis going to the max. I really wanted to see the evil genius of Jackson at work. I really wanted to see The Beast at his worst.

So disappointment is my major take-away from Glass. A 15-year trilogy that squanders its much-loved characters, the goodwill that went with them and that has no real message of any import to impart. I could almost cry with frustration at such a wasted opportunity.

It’s not a bad movie, just one I’ll try to forget, I suspect.

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer (2014)

Available on Netflix

It’s 2014 and in an effort to combat global warming, the world’s governments seed the atmosphere with a chemical. Unfortunately, their plan works too well and the globe enters a new Ice Age that kills all life on the planet.

All life, that is, except for the people travelling in a specially constructed train, Snowpiercer, that travels the globe. By 2031, elites inhabit the extravagant front cars while the ‘scum’ inhabit the tail in squalid and brutal conditions. However, it’s not long before one of the ‘scum’ is able to lead a revolution at the rear of the train that’s soon able to progress its way towards the front.

John Hurt and Chris Evans in Snowpiercer

Huh

Snowpiercer is an odd movie, to say the least. It’s a highly political piece about class divides that’s radical enough to have Chris “Captain America” Evans explaining what it’s like to eat human flesh, and that baby flesh is the tastiest.

It’s also less a movie than a series of vignettes. Every time Evans and his band of fellow passengers makes it forward to the next carriage, the film adopts a completely different tone.

One minute you’re watching cockroaches being ground up to make food for ‘the rear’, the next you’re in a nursery school, watching Alison Pill (The Newsroom, Scott Pilgrim) deliver a quasi-religious sermon about the inventor of the train (Ed Harris). One moment you’re watching hooded fish gutters fight in the dark, the next Tilda Swinton is doing a comedy turn with a Yorkshire accent.

It also doesn’t make even a slight bit of sense. Like The Wandering Earth, it’s mostly best seen as metaphor, rather than anything that could literally happen, scientifically, logistically, psychologically, pragmatically or, well, at all.

At times, it wanders into the territory of Frank Herbert’s The Dragon in the Sea as a study of how people’s psychology can change in confinement and even start worshipping machines. At others, it’s a treatise on control and human psychology.

Fishgutters in Snowpiercer

Not good

But is it a good movie? Not at all. It has a cold opening that throws us confused into the middle of the situation, where we have to learn who everyone is without really learning about why we should care about them, beyond their plot function and the actors playing them.

“They’re going to storm the guards and get through the gates! Yay…?”

Even on its own terms, it frequently fails to make sense. Early on, Evans’ group (having only been on the train for 14 years or so now) work out that their guards’ guns aren’t loaded because they’ve run out bullets, having used them up decades ago. Later on, they discover further down the train people whose guns still have bullets. So why do they have them when they have to protect themselves against no one, whereas the guys dealing with ‘the rear’ don’t have any way to defend themselves?

For the movie’s entire length, I found myself liking the visuals, liking its daring, liking its metaphors, liking its imagination, liking its performances, liking its polar bear… but hating its storytelling, plotting, dialogue and pretty much everything that makes a movie a movie. It’s also dead boring, even when there is an occasional fight.

If you really want to have a weep over global climate and terrible food ingredients with a daring, highly plausible and political piece of sci-fi, Soylent Green‘s your boy, rather than this incoherent knock-off. Snowpiercer is a train to nowhere.