M. Night Shyamalan is his own worst enemy. When he creates small films with deeply personal stories, he shines as a director. However, his grand gestures usually fall flat and earn unintended laughs from the audience. Glass is his most ambitious project to date, an attempt to create an original Shyamalan Cinematic Universe, and it’s a big failure.
Picking up three weeks after the end of Split and fifteen years after Unbreakable, Glass wastes no time in showing us that very little has changed. James McAvoy is back to reprise his role as dozens of different personalities within one very unwell man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). He has kidnapped a quartet of cheerleaders and is holding them in an abandoned brick factory. Though it feels like torment for these girls to be offered peanut butter sandwiches one minute by matron Patricia and then subjected to a Drake karaoke session by 9-year-old Hedwig the next, this is just the natural progression of states for Kevin. All of the various personalities of the Horde are awaiting the return of the Beast, who clearly intends to do to these girls what he did to the batch of captive girls in Split.
Meanwhile, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is still doing his part to clean up the streets of Philadelphia as a vigilante for good. He and son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) have a system to use David’s powers of touch telepathy to find the bad guys, and stay away from the police who want to find this rogue superhero. When a chance encounter brings Kevin to David’s attention, he has no choice but to rescue the kidnapped girls. Unfortunately for both of them, they get caught by authorities during their big showdown.
Their capture does not lead to arrest, as you would expect for a serial killer and a vigilante. Instead, they’re given to Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) for treatment to break them from thinking that they’re superhumans from comic book lore. To no one’s surprise, the other patient joining their specialized therapy group is Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson).
The majority of the running time in Glass is spent in this hospital, but to no real end. Each super character has a good amount of time talking to the doctor and the orderlies. Just as the Titanic was once described as “unsinkable,” we’re given a similar tour of these specially designed holding cells for each of these extraordinary men. At one point, we see a joint therapy session with all three of them, though it’s unclear how this is supposed to be effective in their treatment.
In true Shyamalan fashion, he seems to not understand a good thing when he has it. The greatest strength of Split was McAvoy’s transformational performance as nearly two dozen characters. Though the various characters are shown in Glass, the camera instead chooses to focus on the faces of those watching the transitions, rather than the transitions themselves. We also don’t get nearly enough time with David as a good guy or Glass as an evil mastermind to approach recapturing any of what made Unbreakable such a wonderful film. None of the best bits of the three main characters are given the spotlight here, and the film suffers for it.
Glass also suffers from a plot that lacks any notion of where it’s heading. Though it eventually plods its way towards some grand structures which are setting up sequels that may never get made, it does so at the expense of the characters we have an attachment to and a plot that was promised early in the film. Without spoilers, I must say that Glass is often the equivalent of taking out a gun in an improv sketch, but never firing it. It’s disappointing and frustrating.
This is not to say that Glass is a complete waste of time, but it is a waste of good characters. The setup of the plot is interesting and Dr. Staple is intriguing. The real problem is that Glass has no idea what to do with such bounty, and crumbles under the weight of its own ideas. If Shyamalan’s career pattern repeats itself, he’ll produce another amazing film in a few years, but we have to suffer through Glass in the meantime.