There’s no other way to say it: Glass is a mess.
I can’t know for sure what M. Night Shyamalan‘s worst movie is, because I haven’t seen all of them. While I loved The Sixth Sense (by most accounts his best work) and for the most part liked Signs, I was somewhat disappointed in the twist element in the otherwise enjoyable Unbreakable, and then, after watching The Village, I promised myself to never watch another M. Night Shyamalan movie again. And for years, I didn’t, which means I never saw The Happening, Lady in the Water, or The Last Airbender, which are his worst-reviewed films (with Airbender clocking in at a 5% Rotten Tomatoes score). But I let my guard down in more recent years. I gave The Visit a chance, and thought it wasn’t terrible (and actually kind of fun), and more recently, Split, which I thought was pretty good – in part due to an interesting premise and in part due to James McAvoy‘s entertaining performance(s) as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with 24 different personalities (collectively known as “The Horde”) fighting amongst themselves to keep one particularly dangerous personality at bay. I also liked that while there were some reveals at the end, it didn’t rely too heavily on a hokey “twist.” The revelation that Split was part of the same cinematic universe as Unbreakable felt more like an intriguing bonus than a “gotcha.”
And now there is Glass, the third in a trilogy including Unbreakable and Split which follows a group of damaged “everyday Joe’s” as would-be-superheroes/villains fighting to understand and grapple with their powers and what to do with them, and which, dare I say, I was actually looking forward to. Sadly, it’s the worst of Shyamalan’s films I’ve seen.
As the writer and director of the trilogy of Unbreakable, Split and Glass, one might assume that Shyamalan has a little bit of each of his main characters from these movies somewhere within him, including the multiple personalities in McAvoy‘s Kevin – which include an eternally 9-year-old boy Hedwig, a tightly controlled headmistress Patricia, and the more destructive, wilder, and unpredictable “Beast,” as well as Samuel L. Jackson‘s super-intelligent yet fragile and embittered Unbreakable villain “Mr Glass,” and Bruce Willis‘ sensitive, self-doubting security-guard-with-super-powers David Dunn. Watching Glass, there’s a sense that those different personalities were all at odds with each other inside of Shyamalan himself, taking over at different times within the filmmaking process to detrimental effect.
The film picks up some time after the ending of Split. Kevin (McAvoy) has kidnapped a small herd of cheerleaders (they are actually choreographed to move in unison like gazelles), while David (Willis) (the only surviving member of the train crash in Unbreakable) is trying to track Kevin down with some help from his son Joseph, (Spencer Treat Clark reviving his Unbreakable role). During a rescue operation to save the girls, both Kevin and David are detained and taken to a psychiatric research facility where, coincidentally, Mr. Glass (Jackson) has been held for years in a vegetative state under heavy sedation. Here they are placed under the supervision of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who suggests they suffer from a syndrome that only makes them *think* they have super-powers when in reality it can all be explained through science and their previous traumas and perhaps reading too many comic books. Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), Kevin’s main kidnap victim from Split, re-enters the picture, enlisted to try and convince Kevin to regain control of “The Horde,” and from here, the men must figure out whether to remain in the facility or to escape and if so, how. From there, well, things just pretty much fall apart.
Glass is a patchy, clunky, awkward and frustrating work, the entire first half of which was clearly constructed – as most of Shyamalan’s films are – as to “reveal” a series of “twists” in the second half, reveals which, in this case, ultimately do nothing but disappoint. The decision to set up Glass this way leaves the first half of the movie feeling empty as our “superheroes” are given essentially nothing to say or do (Mr. Glass spends much of the movie in a vegetative state and the already quiet and stoic David Dunn disappears from the screen for a large chunk of time) and the second half having low emotional impact as we haven’t had a chance to develop much feeling for the characters in the lead-up. It’s an especially heinous disservice given the caliber of the talent pool in the film. While McAvoy once again has an opportunity to shine by rotating through Kevin’s internal cast of characters, and Paulson pulls off the cold calculation of a skeptical psychiatrist well given the material, Willis, Jackson, and Taylor-Joy are essentially wasted in Glass, with very little character development or anywhere to go. Bruce Willis, especially, deserved better, as his David Dunn is the least fleshed-out, and given the least opportunity to express his thoughts, feelings, motivations and powers throughout.
Another issue is that the major set-up within Glass, a promise of something bigger, more exciting, more fulfilling to come, never materializes. Instead the plot crash lands with an exasperating sputter and some truly silly scenes and moments that are meant to be impactful but aren’t, and a muddled attempt at delivering the message of “superheroes are real and they are within us.” If only the film showed us why that matters, or what they can do that is impactful in any way. As the last chapter in a trilogy that felt like it was leading up to something, Glass is more than anti-climactic, it practically cuts the other two films off at the knees, leaving the audience to wonder the point of it all. Imagine a superhero leaping off of a building only to fall to the ground with a splat. That’s what Glass does to this trilogy as its finale.
At the start of the screening I attended, a rep from the movie studio read the audience a note from Mr. Shyamalan asking that we, as early viewers, protect the “secrets” of the film, so I won’t say more about the plot. But I can’t help wondering if moviegoers would be better served if the filmmaker worried less about rug-pull reveals and twist endings and “surprising” us than about simply crafting a good movie.
If art imitates life, then it’s hard to tell if Shyamalan, with Glass, is a superhero wracked with self-doubt, or merely blinded by his own gifts. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. What is clear is that the voices have gotten to him, and he’s unfortunately lost his way here. As the credits roll with a wink, each of the characters from Kevin’s different personalities: Hedwig, Patricia, Barry, The Beast, etc are listed as individual starring characters in the film. If this is a cast of characters within Shyamalan himself, the question is: which one of them made this movie?
The answer is: probably all of them, and it shows.