M. Night Shyamalan is a great storyteller, but that doesn’t always equate to being a great writer or director. It seems that he wants the world to recognize him as an auteur. Besides producing, writing and directing his films, he also appears (ala cameo) in each. This arrogant nod to Hitchcock can be fun at times, but instead of a Where’s Waldo moment, when he appears everything grinds to a halt, the lead actors step into the background, and the focus is entirely on him. This cameo lasts for several minutes and even has M.N.S. specifically reminding the audience that this “character” also appeared in 2000’s “Unbreakable.” “GLASS” takes the term vanity-project to a new level.
The film starts off well enough, roughly 3 weeks after the surprise ending of “Split” that tied it into the “Unbreakable” mythos. For the past 15 years, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has been fighting petty crime in Philadelphia using his superhuman strength and gift for sensing the dirty secrets of those he touches. His now adult son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) is his guiding Oracle, speaking to him via earpiece while Googling faster than a speeding bullet. With a third set of young women now abducted by The Hoard (James McAvoy), David has been taking more “walks”, randomly touching strangers, hoping to get a clue as to their whereabouts. It doesn’t take long before David comes face to face with The Beast, the most dangerous and bloodthirsty of The Hoard’s 24 personalities. Their epic battle is cut short when police suddenly show up and ship them off to Raven Hill Memorial Hospital, the same mental institution Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) has been detained all these years. These three meta-humans are put under the care of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who informs them she has three days to evaluate them. Three days to make them all realize that they are simply delusional, not extraordinary in any way, and everything can be explained away. Should she fail, the legal system will step in and either prosecute, execute, or lobotomize them.
Up until this point, the movie is rather good. The action, direction, and dialog are all entertaining, if not particularly unique or inspired. But then the second act slows the momentum down, way down. Both “Unbreakable” and “Split” had slow pacing, but it was deliberate. They each had their own rhythm that built to a crescendo in the final act. “GLASS” plays more like someone switching the radio station while you’re driving; A little talk radio, a morning show, some cool music, a bit of the gospel, and then a top-40 station playing everything you’re sick of hearing. The largest chunk of this film deals with Dr. Staple telling our trio of characters, and their loved ones, how wrong they all are. Each of the top three only has one supporting character each. David has his son Joseph, Mr. Glass’s mother (Charlayne Woodard) shows up, and even Casey(Anya Taylor-Joy) returns with a raging case of Stockholm Syndrome to support two of the Hoard’s personalities. There are some genuinely inspired moments and concepts during this part of the movie, but they are diluted by extended sequences of people repeating the same information we already know, tirelessly explaining every tiny thing (that we already know), or seeing characters tear up from painful introspection that their life is a delusion. It should be noted that the great Sam Jackson does absolutely nothing but twitch for at least the first hour of the movie. James McAvoy more than makes up for it with his performance(s). In the previous movie, it was noted that he only portrayed 9 of the 24 personalities, but this time he goes for broke. It is quite entertaining and occasionally hilarious but eventually grows tiresome. The more you see a trick, the less impressive it becomes.
When things finally do come to a head in the third act, we are again treated to some inventive camera work, but everything else is a disjointed mess. The more the audience learns, the less the entire movie makes sense. During the climax, if the camera isn’t on a person, the story treats them like they don’t even exist. The amount of people working at the facility varies drastically from scene to scene. Major things happen to key characters with no one intervening. Even the dialog takes a nosedive, with every other line being a condescending explanation regarding comic books. The word “comics” is used to such an extent it becomes painful to hear and finally culminating in the (not)helpful line “In the comics, they call this part, the showdown.”
“Unbreakable” was ahead of its time and treated the subject matter with reverence. “Split” was over the top, but very well made, and a lot of fun. “GLASS” thinks it’s smarter than it’s audience and ends up being the dumbest thing in the room. It’s shame that Shyamalan wasted his greatest characters, so much potential, and the faith he had rebuilt in fans on this mess.