The Cracks Begin to Show
In a way, the timing of Glass couldn’t be better. When M. Night Shyamalan made his superhero subversion Unbreakable in 2000, he couldn’t possibly have predicted the current dominion superhero movies have over the film industry. With the advent of Glass, he’s had eighteen years of new cultural DNA to analyze for the long-gestating conclusion of his trilogy. Sadly, Glass ends up being the worst movie of the three.
Onto the story. After being cornered by a SWAT team during a scuffle, Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) – the multiple-personality supervillain of Split – and David Dunn (Bruce Willis) – the vigilante superhero of Unbreakable – are taken into custody in a mental hospital. There, along with Unbreakable’s super-smart evildoer Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), the two are forced to undergo a sort of conversion therapy. The treatment, spearheaded by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), seeks to rid the three of their “delusions” of superpowers. Glass sees the sessions as an opportunity to unleash the Beast – Kevin’s most vicious personality – and wreak havoc, while Dunn searches for a way to stop him.
Phew. Glass’s story, though uncomplicated, is packed with plot. That’s to be expected in a movie that has to marry two tenuously connected stories, as well as tell one of its own. And the two preceding movies make for strange bedfellows indeed; Unbreakable was an uncommonly human sci-fi drama, while Split was a lean, gimmicky horror-thriller. The genres prove incompatible, preventing Glass from succeeding as either one.
McAvoy in particular feels like he’s in a different movie from the rest of the cast. His big, showy performance was the main draw of Split, and gelled with its B-Movie sensibility; here, his overacting – a necessity in playing so many distinct personalities – grates against Glass’s attempts at solemnity. Willis doesn’t fare much better; he’s sidelined for long stretches of the movie, though he at least puts in a little more effort than his usual sleepwalking schtick. Of all the actors, Jackson emerges as the best, thanks to some juicy dialogue and his full recommitment to the title role.
Given its surfeit of characters and plot threads, it’s no surprise that Glass’s pacing is lopsided. It stalls in its midsection, spending far more time in the institution than the story justifies. The third act has the opposite problem, rushing through several plot developments (including, yes, twists) in a too short a time. None of these story beats are bad, per se, and one is pretty good, but they’re often lost in the shuffle of a final showdown that refuses to end. Here, the movie gets bogged down in its own self-mythologizing, trading Unbreakable’s light touch for a far too literal-minded comic book allegory, complete with one character delivering what may as well be a director’s commentary.
Yet for all its problems, I still kind of liked Glass. It doesn’t achieve the sense of awe it’s going for, but it goes for it with gusto, and it’s hard not to be somewhat charmed by Shyamalan’s sincerity. He remains a technically gifted filmmaker, and Glass isn’t without flashes of his former brilliance. But it lacks the quiet mystique of Shyamalan’s best works, which have always thrived in the shadows. Something is lost when they’re brought into the light.