Courtesy of Universal
M Night Shyamalan's self-indulgence is on full display in his trilogy closer “Glass,” which is a half-breed attempt at enjoining two of the directors more notable works: the 2000 cult-hit “Unbreakable” and 2017’s breakout smash “Split” into a connected universe.
Some would regard “Unbreakable” as Shyamalan’s best film -- it was his first after “The Sixth Sense” which capitulated his status as the director to watch - because the movie tackled superhero conventions in their infancy, and, in an odd way, also challenged the ideals of male masculinity. His follow-up to that film, the crop circle thriller “Signs,” solidified what audiences already knew, the man follows a tactical formula (what you can’t see scares you) and from then on out a string of misses plagued his résumé. (The less we mention the atrocity that was “The Last Airbender” the better). He also gifted us with the Mark Wahlberg led plant killing (and R rated) “The Happening,” and gave Will Smith the worst movie of his career in “After Earth.”
And so, as of late, Shyamalan - who had become the punchline of his own directing resume - had a small resurgence: he produced the micro-budgeted “Devil,” had moderate success with the television series “Wayward Pines,” and delivered his best movie in over a decade: “The Visit.” So, ideally, you would assume Shyamalan was on the rise once again, with “Glass” being the tip of the iceberg of his comeback tour.
But the truth is, “Glass,” watchable as it is, registers as a disappointment. Minus the fact that “Split” and “Unbreakable” never belonged together in the first place, Shyamalan seems caught up in his own narrative to stop and let the audience understand his message. It’s a case of mistaken identity, and we’re all the victims.
When “Split” - the film where James McAvoy portrayed Kevin Crumb, a man who suffers from a severe personality disorder - ended, it included a tag that showcased The Overseer himself - David Dunn (Bruce Willis as the slicker-wearing vigilante who hunts down the bad-guys like a good ole’ fashion hero would do) - from “Unbreakable” thus confirming the two films would collide eventually. You can tell it was convenient for Shyamalan because the paths crossed in smooth succession, and birthed a new franchise that nobody was asking for. (If you survey a good portion of the audience who saw “Split” only true fans knew who David Dunn was). Sure, “Unbreakable” is regarded in few circles as the director’s best work, but it doesn’t pop with the praise and awareness that “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” brought to the table.
And so the start of “Glass” picks up weeks after “Split” concluded and Kevin’s cycle of characters (who are called: “The Horde”) have taken their next batch of victims, a group of cheerleaders. Meanwhile, Dunn - who ironically runs a home security business with his son (the all grown up Spencer Treat Clark) - is on the daily hunt to track down the missing squad, and bring the culprit to justice.
It’s not long before The Horde and The Overseer come face to face in a sequences that’s as exciting as watching grass grow, and the two end up in the crosshairs of Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson - deserving better than this) who locks the two up in a mental institution as to study their mental psychosis. In addition to Kevin (with his multiple personalities which McAvoy switches in and out of on a dime) and the superhuman Dunn on the inside, there's also the character whose name lends itself to the title: Mr Glass - (Samuel L Jackson’s comic book loving villain whose body is so fragile, you can push him the wrong way and his arm would break) - who sits like a potato for most of the film, and is quietly scheming a plot that’s big twist is not as shocking, innovative, or smart as Shyamalan thinks it is. If anything, it looks cheap and the budget reflects that.
After all, this is a Blumhouse production - whose model specializes in turning movies that cost about $2 dollars into huge moneymakers - most of the action stays locked inside the institutions walls, which doesn’t give Willis’s Dunn much to do other than stare blankly at the screen and collect an easy paycheck. But it does give a striking showcase for McAvoy who steals the spotlight, and tries - in what semblance of coherence the film offers - to make sense of it all. He channels every trait and mannerism from that of a nine-year old boy named Hedwig (who prefers Drake over Nicki Minaj) to a crotchety old hag named Patricia simultaneously and it's the best thing “Glass” offers the viewer.
Not to mention “Glass” is cluttered and busy for its 130 minute runtime (even throwing a bone to “Split” character Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) for no other reason than to have facial recognition) when a more traditional sequel to “Split” would’ve been welcomed. I can respect what Shyamalan was trying to carry out (although I won’t forgive him for shamelessly throwing himself a cameo into the middle the film, which only serves as fan service and nothing else) - but the once beloved filmmaker who was so keen on exposing film conventions (all of “Unbreakable” was dissecting the superhero formula) that it’s sad how “Glass” seems like one big mockery of his past works. Undermining the events of both its predecessors, “Glass” was supposed to shatter expectations. Too bad it ends up feeling broken.