Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan has had one of the most maddening careers of any auteur in recent history. His meteoric rise and subsequent fall out of favor has been well documented, coupled with profiles that have painted him as a narcissistic Hitchcock/Spielberg wannabe, but with 2016’s hit (and sly ‘Unbreakable’ sequel), ‘Split’, it had appeared his back to basics approach (self-financed, partnership with Blumhouse) had garnered him renewed success. Everyone loves a comeback story, so audiences with long memories of Bruce Willis’s David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, as well as new fans revisiting his old hits after enjoying ‘The Visit’ and ‘Split’, were primed for his trilogy capper, the superhuman faceoff, ‘Glass’.
Almost twenty years in the making, ‘Glass’ is Shyamalan’s ultimate think-piece on society’s relationship with superheroes and comic book movies, plus, whether intentional or not, audience expectations of his career. The film opens a few weeks after the events of ‘Split’, allowing for a check-in with James McAvoy’s dissociative identity disorder sufferer, Kevin Wendell Crumb, and Bruce Willis’ mysteriously enhanced vigilante. Crumb is back to his old ways, keeping a group of cheerleaders captive as food for The Beast, the enhanced 24th personality that emerged in ‘Split’s finale. These scenes signify a very different tone that will inform the rest of the movie, as they are shot with far less foreboding dread and terror than ‘Unbreakable’ or ‘Split’ – the teens are synchronized in their responses and come across as standard comic book victims, inevitably set to be rescued. Willis’s Dunn is on the hunt for their location, using tools that he and his son Joseph (an all grown up Spencer Treat Clark from ‘Unbreakable’) utilize in their ‘day job’ as security specialists. All of these scenes, including the confrontation they lead to, are a great payoff of the sneaky twist ending of ‘Split’, if lacking the unrelenting tension of that previous film.
The film then has to pay homage to its namesake, and as advertised, all three characters must convene. That this happens in a contrived, unrealistic way is only the tip of the disbelief suspension iceberg, as Shyamalan writes and paints himself into a corner just to force his three main characters, Dunn, Crumb, and a seemingly catatonic Mr. Glass (seriously, Jackson’s twitching and drooling go on for much longer than is bearable) into a psychiatric hospital. Although he’s had over twenty years to make good on his decades-old idea of real-life super-powered people, ‘Glass’ becomes the film version of the dog finally catching the postman. Instead of using this platform as a symbolic takedown of comic book movies, fandom, and the drive to want to believe in something more than human, Shyamalan has long stretches of obvious dissertation, almost as if superhero movies and the comics they are based on are somehow unknown to audiences. The scene featured in the marketing material for the film, with all three ‘superheroes’ in a therapy session with the always welcome Sarah Paulson as Dr. Ellie Staple, is a bravura one in which she challenges the individuals, and the audience by proxy, around the very concept of the superhuman. It’s unfortunate that despite some truly interesting ideas, the plodding contrivances Shyamalan uses to get the players in the room together, coupled with an overwrought finale that thinks it’s way more clever than it really is, can’t provide the payoff and promise of his two previous films in this universe . . .
Written & Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Running Time: 129 min.
* * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -OR- C+