M. Night Shyamalan's Glass is setting itself up as an anti-Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the movie will explore the concept of expanded universes within the superhero genre, it appears to be turning Marvel's tried-and-true formula on its head and wholly breaking away from its familiar norm.
Eighteen years after the dark pseudo-superhero thriller Unbreakable, Glass will reunite the movie's hero and villain (played by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively) as they find themselves crossing paths with Split's Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy). The trio finds themselves under the observation of a psychiatrist named Dr. Ellie Staple (played by Sarah Paulson) who specializes in delusions of grandeur, specifically revolving around patients who believe that they are superheroes. Though it certainly has all the makings of a traditional superhero movie on paper, Shyamalan appears to be going out of his way to pull a complete 180 on the modern superhero template - namely the one perfected by the MCU.
In the Glass trailer, there are a number of genre-bending elements that suggest Shyamalan is trying to directly oppose Marvel Studios' proven template. For one - apart from the fact that Shyamalan specifically didn't want to debut the Glass trailer in front of any Marvel movies - the superheroes in this universe aren't quite as revered as they are in the MCU. In Glass, they're delusions. They're treated like severe symptoms of mental health conditions, resulting in the hospitalization of these so-called heroes. And they're not being recruited by some secret government agency, but hidden away for special evaluation. Glass is unapologetically grounded in reality; stripped of any traditional ingredients for escapism and ripe with consequences that don't appear to be fixed with some formulaic third act VFX-heavy Battle Royale. Jackson's Elijah Price (aka Mr. Glass) even says, "This is not a cartoon; this is the real world."
However, one of the most notable elements in Glass that suggest it's a bona fide MCU rebel is how it subverts the whole "Avengers assemble" concept. In the MCU, the heroes are introduced via standalone movies, and then team up every few years for a group adventure. In Glass, however, the opposite is true. The characters do get their standalone movies, but the teaming up is reserved for the villains, not the heroes. Glass may well (and likely will) end with Willis' David Dunn beating the odds and defeating his enemies, but he's still flying solo. And if the neon sign that reads "Villains" isn't enough of a clue that Glass will assemble its baddies in the same way the MCU assembles its heroes, Price outright talks to Crumb about "the bad guys teaming up."
In this golden age of superheroes, courtesy of the MCU, some fans are starting to feel the fatigue. With close to four MCU movies being released per year, it's hard to argue against the fact that Marvel has a kind of creative monopoly over the market. So, whether fans are tired of the formula or simply interested in something new for a change, Glass is the palate cleanser. It's presenting itself as a kind of antithesis of everything audiences have familiarized themselves with over the past ten years, with Shyamalan saying (in a not-so-subtle way, because subtlety is rarely his forte) that even something as familiar as Marvel's Cinematic Universe can be subverted. In fact, if this new approach with Glass turns out to be a success, maybe it'll open the door to a new generation of anti-MCU rebels eager to offer up their own creative ways to upend the genre and give audiences something unexpected.
- Glass (2019) release date: Jan 18, 2019