M. Night Shaymalan’s “20 years in the making” superhero trilogy has concluded rather unspectacularly with Glass. Following his surprise 2017 hit Split, Shaymalan brings everything together for a final outing that never feels satisfying or worthy of the build from two films with distinct personalities. Unbreakable, while not a massive hit, was a hit among Shaymalan faithful. Split re-energized his fanbase and was hailed as a return to form. The Oscar nominated director grapples with some interesting ideas in his most recent effort, but rarely connects them to a larger story that feels unsubstantial to the stakes he has attempted to create.
Glass reunites Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson from their roles in the aforementioned Unbreakable 19 years ago. Willis returns as David Dunn, the security guard who’s super strength leads him to wander the streets of Philadelphia as the “Overseeer”. When Dunn and Kevin Wendell Crumb’s (James McAvoy) worlds collide, the two are ultimately sent to a mental hospital, where Elijah Price (Jackson) also just happens to be.
The films opening minutes offer a promising glimpse into the world Shaymalan has created. Through his assured and focused direction, Glass‘ first half hour is really quite entertaining, and feels true to the world he has created. We see The Beast has continued to seek out the pure and unbroken thanks to a sequence with a few cheerleaders who are his most recent victims. It’s a sequence that never overstays its welcome as Shaymalan seems to recognize we spent an entire film in this situation just two years ago. It serves its purpose brilliantly as the films introduction to the wider “Unbreakable-verse”.
Dunn and The Beast engage in a thrilling and wonderfully filmed fight scene establishing the brute strength each of these two posses. Unfortunately, it’s the introduction of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) that puts the film on a path that brings all of the films momentum to a screeching halt. The immensely talented Paulson is utterly wasted in the film. Shaymalan’s script seems to want to focus on Staple’s goal. We are inundated with the “you’re not a superhero” conversation. Paulson’s character pollutes the middle hour of the film with excruciatingly long exposition dumps.
McAvoy brings so much charisma and energy to the role and the film as a whole, that each scene with him in it seems to have more life than the moments without him. That isn’t to say Willis and Jackson are bad; they’re actually quite good. But, unfortunately to the films detriment, McAvoy is so good, everything else seems like a let down. Seamlessly cycling though his multiple personalities, McAvoy builds each character he plays with tremendous intrigue, and makes the audience buy into the motivations of each one. Simply put, McAvoy is a complete joy to watch every time he is on screen.
Some of the film’s plot elements feel a little too ham-fisted. We are reintroduced to Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) as the sympathetic victim of The Beast from the previous film. Also reprising their roles are Spencer Treat Clark as Dunn’s son, and Charlayne Woodard as Mr. Glass’ mother. The simple introduction of these characters makes it obvious where Shaymalan intends to take the story. In fact, many of elements of the film feel predictable, more so than any other Shaymalan film up to this point.
Perhaps Shaymalan has unwittingly trained his audience to his own disadvantage. We expect the twists and turns so much so, that after I had completely checked out of the film for the most part, I began wondering where the twist would come into play. Glass gets there eventually, and it ultimately feels unsatisfying. Shaymalan doesn’t seem to know how to button up the film. It wanders through various possible ending points until eventually the story becomes convoluted, when it should be wrapping up loose ends.
Despite another engaging performance by McAvoy, Glass is unable to deliver a fulfilling conclusion. Shaymalan certainly has elements of something better here, but he tries to fit far too much into a two hour run time that despite the film’s flaws, it doesn’t really feel too long. What can you say about the director’s career? It has certainly been a roller coaster. What’s clear is M. Night isn’t done making films, nor should he be. Glass ultimately will be remembered for being mostly unmemorable. Ostensibly, Glass and its preceding films are an obsession with the human nature of superheroes and their motivations. However, Shaymalan avoids truly tackling any of these issues in the films third act. Sadly, Glass doesn’t connect those ideas in a worthy way as Shaymalan seems to put interesting characterization aside for a more visually pleasing film. Glass doubles down on the silliness and leaves behind the intrigue built up by the films that came before.
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