Glass | M. Night Shyamalan | January 18, 2019
When Split was released in 2017, although fans were expecting a twist from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (who surprised audiences with The Visit 4 years ago), a tie-in to his 16-year-old film Unbreakable wasn’t one that anyone could have seen coming. The film worked well enough, thanks to a wild performance from James McAvoy, but the fact that it was a surprise sequel to one of his best-received films was the main talking point. All sights were set to the future for a new follow-up film expected to bring both film’s characters together for one big showdown. That film, Glass, has finally arrived and the overarching issue is that it’s not a heroic feat, but rather a pretty big disappointment.
Glass, the (supposed) final installment in the newly dubbed ‘Eastrail 177 Trilogy’ begins weeks after the events in Split, with David Dunn (Bruce Willis) doing his best Batman, working as a shadowy figure of vigilante justice as The Overseer in Philadelphia with the help of his grown-up son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark reprising his role) behind the scenes. They turn their focus to stopping Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy, seen later this year in X-Men sequel Dark Phoenix and It: Chapter Two), better known as The Horde, who has kidnapped four young cheerleaders. Their paths collide but don’t result in a Marvel-esque tussle. Instead, they end up locked up in Raven Hill, the same mental institution holding Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson, next seen in Captain Marvel) and recently overseen by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). She’s a psychiatrist that specializes in treating patients with delusions of grandeur – in other words, patients who are convinced that they are superheroes.
Their time spent at the facility features Dr. Staple trying to convince the trio that mental health and previous traumas are the reasons why they mistakingly believe that they are superhuman, not that they were “the chosen few.” She asks them why there aren’t more people like them if they were indeed so special. Of course, this is all for naught and eventually, all three find a way out of the facility and a big epic showdown is teased. But in almost a reverse Shyamalan twist, this epic battle never goes down. Instead, we are treated to a slog of a third act that leaves the audiences more confused than satisfied.
Shyamalan begins the film well enough with the first meeting between The Overseer and The Horde, leading to their capture. At first, this keeps the interest in seeing how the three characters interact at the mental hospital. The proceedings there are handled patiently, maybe too much so, with a good chunk of Glass‘s overlong 128-minute runtime taking place there. You figure it will pay off once they leave the hospital, but instead, it’s during this act that Shyamalan can’t get out of his own way, and slowly but surely, it all comes undone.
What made Unbreakable work was that its portrayal of superheroes was done in such a grounded fashion. People forget that it came out nearly a decade before superhero films properly took off at the box office and critically, dominating in a way that seems almost second nature at this point. It was smart and character-driven, and that feels completely lost here. There are some moments where the film feels like a sequel to it and others where it felt more like Split. In that sense, it never quite came together as its own new cohesive entity, teetering between the balance of both films and lacking the inertia to really bring all the stories together and execute the conclusion in a confident and cohesive manner.
Being a Shyamalan film, there are, of course, the expected big reveals, but none that are executed swiftly enough to justify everything that came before. However, they’re handled in such a clunky fashion that it undermines everything that came before and lands with a triumphant thud, more perplexing than satisfying. It fails to deliver on any of the promises that are teased with a movie featuring these three characters and thinks it’s clever for its meta-take on the genre, thinking it’s smartly winking when really it’s throwing up a middle finger to both the genre and its audience. It’s too bad, as it does present some themes about the hope that these sort of characters provide in our world, but it doesn’t convey this message in an effective manner.
It’s hard to deny the acting abilities of McAvoy here, but at the same time, it feels a bit more gimmicky the second time around. He still shows some amazing chops, but it doesn’t have the same effect that it did in Split. Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson are fine in their respective roles, but feel like side characters in their own movie. Sarah Paulson plays her role as well as can be, but her final arc nearly derails all of that. Meanwhile, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard are completely underused until the final act and the confounding conclusion doesn’t do them or their characters any favors.
Ultimately, Glass is an unsatisfying conclusion to a “trilogy” we didn’t know we needed and – after seeing the results – probably could’ve done well enough without. It’s a shame, as the first half had some moments that teased a film that could’ve worked but it all fell apart at the seams leaving us wondering if they ever had a concrete plan to justify this movie’s existence. If there’s one thing it got right about superhero films is that like in those trilogies, the third film is usually the worst.