Few filmmakers have crashed and burned – then resurrected themselves via a found-footage knock-off – like M. Night Shyamalan. After two lightly regarded, little remembered films (Praying With Anger, Wide Awake), Shyamalan wrote and directed The Sixth Sense. Shyamalan received Oscar nominations for Best Directing and Best Screenplay (he didn’t win), glowing magazine articles comparing him to Steven Spielberg, and the virtual blank check from Disney to make whatever he wanted next. That next film, Unbreakable, a semi-subversive, spandex-free, grounded take on superheroes and superhero mythology, underwhelmed commercially, but eventually became a cult hit with discerning critics and audiences. As Shyamalan moved on to the second biggest hit of his career, Signs, and a slow, but steady decline in audience interest and critical goodwill (The Village, Lady in the Water, and The Happening), an Unbreakable sequel didn’t seem like it’d ever happen, at least not in our lifetime.
The one-two combo of The Last Airbender and After Earth all-but-ended Shyamalan’s career as a big-budget filmmaker, but Jason Blum and Blumhouse Productions backed Shyamalan’s last (in all senses of the word) attempt at a career comeback, The Visit. Career resurrected, Shyamalan created a long-delayed backdoor sequel to Unbreakable with Split, a horror-thriller centered a killer with multiple personalities, including a super-powerful persona, the Beast, set in the same universe. Based on the evidence of Glass, the third film in an unlikely trilogy, Shyamalan should have stopped there. Calling Glass a “disappointment” would be a gross understatement. It’s that and so much worse. Glass is Shyamalan, once again letting his outsized ego, invulnerability to criticism, and disrespect for audience, get the better of him. It’s not the badly handled, repetitive exposition dumps. It’s not the stagnant, flaccid, turgid middle section that seemingly goes on forever. It’s not the cringe-inducing dialogue (a Shyamalan specialty at this point). It’s all that and another “twist” ending that treats his characters, especially David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Unbreakable’s hero-protagonist, with an incredible amount of contempt, all to service a “twist” ending straight out of Marvel Comics X-Men.
Glass doesn’t so much center on the title character, Elijah Price / Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), the superhero-obsessed, megalomaniacal mass murderer, than on Glass, Dunn, and Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), Split’s damaged, broke villain. When Dunn and his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), track down Crumb and his 24 personalities, including the Beast, to an abandoned factory in one of Philadelphia’s disused industrial parks, a superhero-supervillain fight breaks out. But before Shyamalan can spend his modest budget on Marvel-styled fight, a state-sanctioned psychiatrist, and Philly’s SWAT-equipped finest, capture them. Staple ships Dunn and Crumb to the nearby Raven Home Memorial Hospital. Before long, they’re in a salmon-colored room with a heavily drugged, drooling Price, listening to Staple as she lectures them about not about the superhero/supervillain thing, but about their “delusions of (superhero) grandeur.” Apparently, she’s become an expert in mental patients who think they’re superheroes/supervillains (raising a whole host of questions Glass doesn’t bother to answer until the few minutes).
Glass promptly stagnates, barely recovering in the final twenty minutes. Staple repeats her lecture several times, Crumb goes through his personality changes multiple times (McAvoy gives his all again, to diminishing returns), Dunn sulks in a room lined with high-pressure water pipes, and Glass languishes in a semi-comatose state. Until he (Glass) doesn’t, of course, otherwise Glass would never end (it already feels like that). While Dunn and Crumb basically share the same superpower (super-strength, semi-invulnerability), Glass’ claim to supervillain status involves his big brain, a brain turned bitter due to his life-long disability (brittle bones) and a deeply unhealthy obsession with comic books (which Glass sees as Greek myth-turned-into-modern-mythology). Eventually, Glass being Glass (a self-styled mastermind and at times, a painfully obvious stand-in for Shyamalan and his divisive relationship with critics and uncomprehending audiences), he sets a master plan in motion that involves Dunn, Crumb, and a media event that will reveal their existence to the entire world. [Insert multiple yawns here.]
Besides bringing back Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph, Dunn’s son, Shyamalan also brings back Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, the lone survivor of Wendell’s rampage in the previous film, and Charlayne Woodard as Price’s mother. Turning Joseph into the elder Dunn’s guy-in-a-chair makes sense on one level, especially given Dunn’s Batman-inspired, vigilante heroics. Likewise Woodard’s role as Mr. Glass’ long-suffering mother, but Casey’s involvement makes little to no sense (another Shyamalan sadly). Why Casey, the lone survivor of an incredibly traumatic event that left two other young women dead would first have any sympathy or empathy for her captor isn’t a question Shyamalan bothers to ask, let alone answer. Why she agrees to get pulled into Crumb’s treatment by Staple also remains a mystery, though it’s obvious Shyamalan wanted to use the “power of love” as theme and plot device. But that’s nothing compared both to how little Dunn appears in the film and what Shyamalan does with Dunn in the final few minutes – and that’s before an interminable wrap-up that doesn’t carry or convey the emotional weight Shyamalan thinks it does.