For 16 years, fans of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” believed it to be a singular film – a sophisticated and complex superhero story before the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and big-budget comic book flicks.
Then, in 2016, Shyamalan returned with “Split,” another seemingly standalone film, until a final post-credits scene revealed that it had taken place in the same universe as Bruce Willis’s superhero, David Dunn.
After this epiphany, it was all but confirmed that James McAvoy’s 24 personalities, including the vicious monster known as “The Beast,” were on an imminent collision course with Dunn.
A showdown 18 years in the making, set up by two excellent films, only to be absolutely butchered in “Glass,” a poorly-written and dull disappointment.
Without the quiet subtlety that made “Unbreakable” such an intriguing, laid-back superhero movie, or the suspense that drove “Split” and made it so thrilling, “Glass” is left to fall somewhere in-between – an overtly in-your-face superhero story dragged along through excessive exposition.
Set shortly after the events of “Split,” David Dunn is attempting to track down The Beast, one of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s multiple alter egos, who has continued to kidnap and murder young women. After identifying where the hostages are being held, Dunn tries to free them, only to be confronted by The Beast himself. As the two duke it out, they’re surrounded by armed guards and Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist determined to correct their misguided self-perceptions.
Dr. Staple imprisons the two in a mental institution in order to try and prove to them that they’re no different than any other humans, attempting to use reason and logic to explain their seemingly supernatural histories. As fate would have it, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), also known as Mr. Glass, is another one of Dr. Staple’s patients. With the trio all under a single roof, Glass recruits The Beast to join him on his quest discover more gifted superhumans.
Dunn knows he must stop the two before anymore damage is done and escapes his cell setting up the film’s final confrontation.
Throughout the film, Shyamalan struggles with pacing, as the majority of the first two acts are belabored by an unhealthy amount of exposition. What’s the point of the previous two films if you’re just going to bog this film down by recounting them?
Unlike its predecessors, “Glass” takes a stab at modern humor, which just seems strange and out of place. References to Salt Bae, Drake and Nicki Minaj feel forced and unnecessary.
Once again, McAvoy delivers an exceptional performance, as he transitions between character after character without missing a beat. While it’s clear Jackson still has the same conniving evil genius that made Mr. Glass a hit 19 years ago, it’s a shame Shyamalan has him sit silent and motionless for the first hour of the film. Willis, however, just seems exhausted.
In classic Shyamalan style, “Glass” delivers a few dramatic ending twists, some of which work, while others, not so much.
Thanks to some quick research by Dunn’s son Joseph, played by a grown up Spencer Treat Clark, the same actor from “Unbreakable,” Joseph discovers that Mr. Glass is not only responsible for creating Dunn, but for creating The Beast, too. It turns out that Kevin Wendell Crumb’s father was also a passenger on the same train that crashed in “Unbreakable,” leaving Crumb fatherless and at his abusive mother’s will, which resulted in the creation of The Beast. As a result, The Beast turns on Mr. Glass in the third act, thanking him for his creation, but claiming he can’t be trusted. A solid twist to pit the two villains against each other.
On the other hand, the film’s largest twist doesn’t quite hit its target. After Dunn battles The Beast, they’re both, along with Mr. Glass, killed by Dr. Staple’s cronies. As Dunn reaches out and touches Dr. Staple, it’s revealed that she’s actually a member of a secret organization resolved to rid the world of extraordinary people, arguing that the world has been fine without them for 10,000 years. Killing off the series’ three main characters and attempting to sloppily tie this bow around it seems like a cheap cop out to end the trilogy.
While “Glass” has brief glimpses of the magic that made “Unbreakable” and “Split” so alluring, it’s clear that Shyamalan is no longer the director he once was, and this glass may be more than half-empty.
Star Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.