Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Producer: Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan, M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum
Stars: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, Luke Kirby, Adam David Thompson
While a psychiatrist attempts to convince them they are delusional, three men with extraordinary abilities prepare for a faceoff with each other.
I’ve heard multiple claims that “Glass” plays terrifically as a creatively nuanced piece of long-form storytelling when viewed in succession with its predecessors “Unbreakable” and “Split.” That may be true. However, the prospect of revisiting three hours and 45 minutes of dialogue-dominant material just to potentially gain modestly more insight into one movie is not only impractical, it’s unfair.
Any film, even a sequel, ought to be reasonably coherent and enjoyable as a standalone experience without requiring additional action from its audience. I’m comfortable having only a cursory recollection of “Unbreakable” from my single screening in 2000 and a slightly better memory of “Split” from 2016 (review here). Consider this a declaration of context that I’m coming at “Glass” as someone with an at best casual interest in the trilogy’s world-building. From that perspective, the best conclusion I can draw is that “Glass” is disappointingly dull.
“Glass” brings together “Unbreakable’s” invulnerable vigilante David ‘The Overseer’ Dunn (Bruce Willis) and diabolical mastermind Elijah ‘Mr. Glass’ Price (Samuel L. Jackson) with “Split’s” Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), the unstable madman with 24 (mostly) distinct personalities, one of whom is the impossibly powerful ‘The Beast.’ Two of these three men meet when David’s street-level heroics put him on a collision course with Kevin, who has kept up with his kidnapping capers by imprisoning four cheerleaders in an abandoned brick factory. Unfortunately for both men, their battle spills outside where they are captured by authorities under the direction of Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist confident she can cure David and Kevin of their comic book delusions.
At this point, “Glass” promptly puts everything on pause. Action. Momentum. Character development. Everything. Substituting first act exposition where second act intrigue should be mounting, “Glass” enters narrative hibernation for the next hour as Dr. Staple attempts to convince David, Kevin, Elijah, and their closest personal connections that superpowers only exist in their heads.
It’s a pointless plot complication because the audience knows who these men really are. We’re essentially tasked to sit still for 60 minutes while the movie momentarily transmutes David, Kevin, and Elijah to question their true identities. Once it becomes time to turn into the third act, “Glass” returns everyone to the condition they were in before their mental institution incarceration, making the trio’s trip into temporary self-doubt ultimately inconsequential.
A reason later arises for why the following happens. But writer/director M. Night Shyamalan does his movie no favors in the unrewarded anticipation department by repeatedly teasing a climactic confrontation atop an exploding skyscraper. The bait taken, “Glass” then swaps the finale’s setting for a plain parking lot where Willis and McAvoy blandly bear hug each other against van doors like WWE wrestlers catching their breath during a long match. This match-up hardly meets the hype from three films worth of buildup.
Issues with “Glass” aren’t entirely related to unfulfilled expectations for a superhero thriller whose genre can only spare a cobwebbed corner for it. By having Anya Taylor-Joy reprise her “Split” role as Casey, the only victim to survive Kevin Wendell Crumb’s clutches, “Glass” weirdly romanticizes Stockholm Syndrome to where Casey has an oddly affectionate relationship with her former kidnapper and confirmed killer. “Glass” wants so much for its emotional arcs to be meaningful, yet the pieces it has to work with stubbornly refuse to fit comfortably in the frame.
Being a fan of comic creators like Alan Moore and Frank Miller, I genuinely appreciate M. Night Shyamalan’s drive to ground graphic novel concepts inside a closer approximation of everyday reality. But the 21st-century superhero cinema landscape in 2019 isn’t what it was in 2000, when general audiences were conditionally receptive to “Unbreakable” removing capes and spandex to present super-humans as ordinary people. “Glass” follows up nearly two decades too late. Now its conversational pacing and gloomily grey scenery seems trite and uninteresting when compared with where filmic four-color entertainment has progressed in that span.
It’s fair to mention that I’m writing this “Glass” review during the month of the movie’s home video release, April 2019, which is the same month “Avengers: Endgame” is rewriting box office history. Due to their vastly disparate budgets, tones, objectives, and conceptions, it’s not a 1:1 comparison between the two films. It’s not exactly apples and oranges either. In broad terms, they’re both superhero-centric stories. The reality is, it’s impossible to be excited about a doctor interviewing three seated super-humans while Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and the Guardians of the Galaxy are colorfully fighting an intergalactic threat for the fate of mankind. And while the MCU orchestrates a spectacular 12-issue maxiseries crossover epic, “Glass” delivers a humdrum 22-page one-shot fated to be sold five-for-$1 alongside old Archie comics in a water-damaged long box.
Review Score: 50