When M. Night Shyamalan followed up his breakout 1999 hit The Sixth Sense with 2000’s Unbreakable, audiences were largely unsure what to make of this slow-burning movie about finding strength in survival. Arriving just before 9/11 and the rise of the superhero movie, Unbreakable was a film ahead of its time, predicting as it did with its villain - Samuel L. Jackson’s embittered, wheelchair bound Mister Glass - the threat that would rise in the early 21st century from entitled men obsessed with books (be they comics or religious texts) and striking out at a world they believe has left them behind.
At the time it seemed strange that a movie would posit a jock, Bruce Willis’s brawny security guard David Dunn, as the hero and a geek as the villain. How prophetic was that? Today’s schoolkids don’t live in fear of wedgies from football players but of online abuse from out of shape losers. It’s almost as if Shyamalan has a sixth sense of his own (though he couldn’t predict how his name would become a byword for cinematic garbage a few years later with The Happening).
Shyamalan is best known for his climactic plot twists, and with 2016’s Split, he delivered a doozy, tying the events of that film into a wider cinematic universe that included Unbreakable’s David Dunn. The writer/director claims otherwise, but it played like a twist that was tacked on as an act of desperation, one designed to turn a sub-mediocre thriller into an internet talking point. Whether Shyamalan intended to spin out this story is unclear, but judging by Glass, a followup that acts as a sequel to both Unbreakable andSplit, he lacked any clear ideas of where to take this potential franchise. Glass is a movie that spends its two hours plus desperately searching for a story.
Glass opens with Dunn tracking down Split’s villain, Kevin Wendell Crumb aka ‘The Horde’ (James McAvoy), a serial killer suffering from multiple personality disorder who has been preying on girls in the Philadelphia area. After indulging in a superhero/villain smackdown, both Dunn and Crumb are captured by the authorities and taken to a secret wing of a psychiatric hospital. There they are studied by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist obsessed with what she perceives as a phenomenon of men who believe themselves to possess the powers of comic book characters. Also captive at the institute is Mister Glass, who quietly begins to set a new evil scheme in motion.
If Unbreakable was a movie a decade ahead of its time, Glass has arrived a decade too late. With its constant discussion of the tropes of comic books, Shyamalan’s film gives the impression that he believes he’s the first filmmaker to ever deliver a postmodern take on the superhero genre and seems unaware that at least three movies a year have been doing the exact same thing over the last decade. Think of Deadpool played straight and with its action sequences removed and you’ll have some idea how this plays out.
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The bulk of the film takes place in the confines of the psychiatric hospital, a series of exposition heavy conversations between Staple and her trio of impossibly gifted subjects. Glass might be Shyamalan’s least cinematic offering to date, and were it not for occasional reminders of his potential - like how he uses colour to hint at character’s motivations and alliances - you might think you were watching the pilot for yet another uninspired superhero TV show.
The movie may bear his name but Jackson’s Mister Glass is given little screen time, and the same goes for Willis’s Dunn, a shame as Shyamalan has tapped into a melancholy side of both actors left unexplored by other directors. Thankfully the misjudged child abuse subplot of Split has been dropped, but Shyamalan can’t find anything for Anya Taylor-Joy to do in the role of Casey Cooke, survivor of both The Horde and her uncle’s unwanted attention. Instead it’s the intensely irritating McAvoy who hogs the spotlight with his cheap multiple personality schtick. Shyamalan is clearly in love with McAvoy’s routine, allowing him to riff for minutes at a time like the annoying kid in every school class who’s convinced he’s set for stand up comic stardom.
What little plot there is builds inevitably to yet another of Shyamalan’s trademark twists, but this one is underwhelming and makes little sense, contradicting evidence the film has previously presented. Shyamalan has been saying in recent interviews that he doesn’t wish to make another movie in this half-assed franchise, and when you watch Glass you’ll suspect he never really wanted to make this one either.
2stars out of 5
Directed by:M. Night Shyamalan;
Starring: Sarah Paulson, Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy