Review: With nowhere to go, 'Glass' shatters
For all his flops and his faults as a filmmaker — and there have certainly been some doozies in there — M. Night Shyamalan was well ahead of the superhero curve with 2000's "Unbreakable," which pre-dated "Spider-Man," "Iron Man" and the genre's entire takeover of the modern film world.
He returns to the grounded superhero universe of "Unbreakable" with "Glass," although it's unclear what he's trying to say about it in this drab and often mystifyingly dull story. Shyamalan is deconstructing the storytelling bones that make up the skeleton of superhero tales, but "Glass" is so patience-trying that by the time he gets to the big showdown, it's hard to have not already checked out.
"Glass" is a dual sequel, combining the characters from "Unbreakable" and Shyamalan's 2017 hit "Split." Those worlds collided in the final moments of "Split," which didn't seem like a part of Shyamalan's master plan as much as it did a last minute gimmick to salvage the listless tale that preceded it.
"Glass" picks up with "Unbreakable's" David Dunn (Bruce Willis), still performing acts of vigilante justice (social media has taken to calling him nicknames such as "The Overseer" and "The Tip-Toe Man") on the streets of Philadelphia. Dunn, who can see inside people's lives by simply brushing against them and is impervious to all forces (except water!), is on the trail of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), the split-personality from "Split" whose characters — they're really just voices — range from 9-year-old boy Hedwig to a professor who studies Japanese film. (One of the personalities is a Drake fan, which gets mentioned more than it needs to.) The most dangerous of these personalities is "The Beast," a psychotic monster who climbs walls and feeds on human flesh.
About McAvoy's work here: he gives a ticky, showy performance, and he's forever switching voices, like someone is flipping through his channels on a dial. None of the so-called characters have any real distinction from one another, other than the inflections in his voice, and it's always a countdown until he removes his shirt and becomes "The Beast" and the cycle starts anew. (Shyamalan is so taken with the character and McAvoy's work that the actor is given separate credit for each personality in the end credits.)
The third piece of the "Glass" superhero triangle is Samuel L. Jackson's Mr. Glass — dubbed so because his bones are so brittle that if touched they'll shatter to pieces — who spends more than half the movie in a comatose state. When Dunn and Crumb are tossed into a psychiatric hospital together after a confrontation with one another, they're thrown in with Glass to be studied by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who examines patients who believe that they're superheroes. (Since there's only three of them, her work must have been pretty bleak before Dunn and Crumb arrived.)
After separating his characters for a healthy portion of the film's running time, Shyamalan finally brings the three of them together, into an enormous pink-walled room, where they're questioned by Staple. And then ... nothing. The air is slowly let out of the room as its clear Shyamalan doesn't know how to bring these characters together or how to build tension or suspense between them, or how they even relate to one another. It's like if the Avengers came together for the first time and all just stared at each other.
"Glass" picks up for its final confrontation, but the secrets Shyamalan has up his sleeve — did you think there wouldn't be any? — underwhelm, and don't excuse the film's laborious pacing and script issues. "Split's" Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) is brought back to sympathizes with the Crumb character — or at least one of his personalities — which is an unfortunate handling of the psyche of a sexual abuse victim. Shyamalan, meanwhile, frames his characters in tight close-ups and shots that spin upside down for no discernible reason, other than he's not sure how to use visuals to tell his story. It's a style-less attempt to bring pizzazz to often dreary looking scenes with cheap-looking production design.
The fact that Shyamalan keeps getting chances after so many strikeouts makes him something of a superhero himself, so his attraction to the genre is understandable. He can't save the day this time, however, and turns in a disappointing effort that takes too long to show its weak hand. "Glass," it turns out, is broken.
Rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language
Running time: 129 minutes