Man, who ever would have thought that people would be looking forward to an M. Night Shyamalan movie again? Sure, Split was a big hit when it came out two years ago, but most people didn’t anticipate it marking his career resurgence. But it was. Only it wasn’t because it turned out to be a secret sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable. Sure, that fanned the flames of word-of-mouth, but no one would have gotten excited if Split wasn’t a good movie on its own. And a lot of the credit has to be given to James McAvoy for that one, for without his out-there yet grounded performance, the whole thing would have fallen apart. Nevertheless, here we are, getting the now obligatory mashup, follow-up – whatever you want to call it – that sees to wrap a nice little bow on this unorthodox superhero trilogy, the aptly titled Glass. And boy does it not work. Either as a standalone thriller or a superhero sequel. Which is disappointing, to say the least. Early Shyamalan is easily peak Shyamalan, so to see him going back to his old ways was certainly promising. In fact, Unbreakable might be my favorite of his movies – though to be fair, the only time I saw The Sixth Sense was in a classroom when I was seventeen. Regardless, there’s a lot of yummy philosophical and narrative pondering going on in that movie, and Glass is more a spiritual sequel to that than it is to Split. Unfortunately, it proves wholly unable to capture the same kind of magic, the same kind of mysticism that Shyamalan is constantly trying to inject into his passion projects, even something as fundamentally flawed as Lady in the Water. And like that film, and like some of his other misses like The Village and The Happening, you can still feel the potential for greatness hibernating just beneath the surface. But again, Shyamalan’s more frustrating indulgences take hold, taking the audience hostage as he opts to tread very familiar narrative ground. Sure, his grand scheme begins to take shape toward the climax, but the resolution proves nowhere near worth the seemingly endless hours lost trudging around in the middle portion. You might be thinking, “Hey, this is a Shyamalan movie, so what about the twist?” And yeah, Glass has got them, but they come so rapid-fire and so frequently in the last fifteen minutes that whatever Shyamalan wanted to leave you with becomes a muddled mess. In short, Glass is a frustrating watch, both when it’s trying to do too much and not nearly enough.
In Glass, the unbreakable man David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has become a folk tale protector known as The Overseer, using his abilities to right wrongs when they occur. After tracking down four teenaged girls who had gone missing, he comes face-to-face with their kidnapper, one Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), whose disassociate identity disorder has given him the moniker The Horde. The ensuing battle is soon interrupted by a SWAT team led by psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who capture both Dunn and Crumb and intern them at a nearby mental institution. There, Staple uses their weaknesses against them in an effort to cure their alleged psychoses, claiming that they merely believe they possess superhuman abilities. Along with them in the treatment program is criminal mastermind Elijah Price aka Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), an old enemy of Dunn’s. Staple begins by making a convincing argument against their exceptionalism, but she may be in more trouble than she realizes, as Mr. Glass is sure to have a master plan to make all three individuals clash.
There’s been talk that audiences were relatively misled by the marketing of this movie, it claiming that it was an epic superhero showdown that would raise the stakes of both films before it. I personally wasn’t going in expecting grand actions sequences to be the bread and butter of the picture, but I am a little indignant to the fact that what they did decide to dedicate so much of the runtime to is such a meaningless slog. It’s difficult to really get into the crux of the matter without breaking down specific plot points, but what I will say is that it does a whole lot of ruminating. They’re worthwhile themes, sure, but when the bulk of the audience already knows what the answers to those questions are, largely because they know how storytelling works, it makes sitting through those countless moments a chore. Granted, the thought process behind the movie is very similar to that which made Unbreakable great, but for whatever reason the same recipe does not work here, largely because there is a whole stretch of runtime in which literally nothing happens. For so long we’re sitting around waiting for Samuel L. Jackson’s character to start making moves, and by the time he does I’ve nearly fallen asleep. I’m not going to say that a movie’s themes aren’t important to the longevity of the thing. In fact, they’re super important, but when so much time is pumped into building that up, and so little time is spent advancing the plot, it feels less like we’re watching a movie than reading a thesis paper.
And speaking of themes, this is the kind of film that’s completely upfront about what it wants to convey to the viewer. Much like a satire á la Scream, here are characters that are wholly aware of what kind of story they’re in. In fact, I’d wager they’re even more aware, more aware than casually aware, to the point that they’re willing to lay out exactly what plot mechanics are happening as they’re happening in real time. That might be one way for a writer to flex their storytelling muscle on paper, but when it’s literally being orated to the viewer in what is supposed to be the film’s most climactic moment, it can’t help but deflate any sense of tension. Essentially, there’s a moment when self-awareness needs to separate itself from the movie, and Glass simply never does. Instead it seems content with banging you over the head with symbolism and meaning to the point that whatever kind of narrative stew it’s trying to make becomes unpalatable.
One thing that M. Night Shyamalan has usually been good at is drawing realistic, thoughtful characters that ground whatever heady devices drive the plot into the realm of the unusual. And it’s frankly been a while since he’s headlined such an appeal crop of characters to bounce off one another and create a kind conductive cacophony of ideas. That however isn’t what ends up happening with Glass, as each of its leading trio gets the short end of the stick in a movie that doesn’t suit their best interests. By all accounts, David Dunn should be our ostensible narrative focal point for the proceedings, but not even the prospect of reprising one of his most iconic roles can seemingly get Bruce Willis to care again. Surprise, surprise. And for a movie called Glass, there’s not a whole lot of Mr. Glass stuff going on. I’d have to check the tape, so to speak, but I don’t think Samuel L. Jackson so much as mutters a single line of dialogue until the hour-and-a-half mark. Sure, the rest of the film is devoted to him, but scene after scene he becomes the mouthpiece for everything that is wrong with this movie, to the point that what should be his most poignant moments toward the end become the most laugh-inducing. Aside from those two, James McAvoy remains the standout here, doubling down on a character so wickedly entertaining that this should have simply been an direct sequel to Split. Seriously, the only time I heard my audience come alive was when McAvoy was given time to shine, even though he carries the load of providing all the comedic relief for the film.
All that being said, I was very hot and cold with Glass, constantly waiting for it to take hold of me and reignite my love for Shyamalan. Unfortunately, it confused making power moves with spinning a hopeless amount of plates, all of which come crashing to the floor. Had it been able to pull off its 129-minute magic trick toward the end, I might have even given it a favorable review. But as it stands, it amounts to a whole lot of nothing that makes me wish they would have merely left Unbreakable alone. Turns out the only Shyamalan-aisssance we will ever get is the original one.
Final Score: 3/10