Glass is a film about three men with superpowers, but two of the film’s biggest driving forces are actually Sarah Paulson’s Doctor Ellie Staples and Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey Cooke. Unfortunately, M. Night Shyamalan’s race to the shocking events of the final act and its shocking events means he rushes through potentially interesting character beats, and opportunities to create well-rounded women characters who have lives outside of the three men at the center of the story. This issue is symptomatic of the one of the film’s biggest problems: It’s filled with half-baked ideas that often overwhelm the cast of characters. From the outset, we’re presented with a world that is potentially home to thousands of superpowered people, and that idea is also crucial to the ending of the film. But when the women who expand that narrative don’t hold any powers themselves, it leaves them floating unmoored in the unfinished world building around them, still supporting three comic book archetypes who appear (until the final act) at the center of the film. Ultimately this cheapens the stakes and immersion of Glass.
Throughout Split, Taylor-Joy traded in tension, empathy, and compassion. Here she’s sidelined with an inexplicable plot focused solely on loving and supporting the man who kidnapped her and murdered her friends. The lack of regard or accountability for James McAvoy’s character Kevin Wendell Crumb’s previous crimes is one example of the film needlessly sacrificing the few women it bothers to feature. In Split, we were introduced to a monster who took young women prisoner and killed them. Putting aside the troubling representation and culpability of his Dissociative Identity Disorder, his crimes are horrific and it’s implied that one of his personalities has a penchant for abusing underage girls.
But in Glass we’re expected to forget that, and Shyamalan attempts make Kevin a compassionate and, according to Mister Glass and the film’s score, maybe even inspirational figure. Though Taylor-Joy brings a rawness to her performance, her life and recovery are exchanged for a Beauty and the Beast-like Stockholm Syndrome while she spends most of the runtime consoling the cannibal serial killer who murdered her friends. This misunderstanding of the film’s own continuity and lore persistently comes at the cost of meaningfully developing its women characters, while it peddles the newly added inspirational arcs of the men.
Though powerhouse Paulson’s story hints at something bigger and more intriguing, her character never really develops beyond her “gotcha” function. Shyamalan introduces the potential for a wider and scarier conspiracy of which Staples is at the center as a machiavellian figure whose intentions are not what they first seem. In this way, the doctor could have been iconic—a ruthless member of a murderous cult. But instead, her arc is oddly paced and never truly developed. It would’ve been exciting to see Paulson go full big bad, but she gets mere moments to explain her place in the master plan. In a different film, her theories about superhero psychosis could’ve been engaging and complex, but here we’re constantly provided proof that the three men are actually superpowered, so her bluff never feels like the threat that it should.
Finally, Paulson and Cookie are joined by Charlayne Woodard, reprising her role from Unbreakable as Mister Glass’ mother. Though she is only really around for the purpose of exposition and explaining simple and often misused terms like “showdown” and “limited edition,” she’s also the only true ally that Elijah has, which should have afforded her a more complex and interesting portrayal.
In Glass, Shyamalan had the potential to introduce well-rounded women into his previously male-focused franchise and consequently offer more balance and a more believable world. Instead, the film falls into lazy tropes, relying on women to push the plot forward without developing them into whole characters. It’s a real shame, especially as the final act has the potential to turn Taylor-Joy and Woodward into powerful figures in their own right but instead tacks on a strangely forced feel-good ending that muddles the continuity of the previous films. There’s nothing feel-good about that.