'Glass' Review: M. Night Shyamalan's Superhero Sequel Is Anything But Super

With GlassM. Night Shyamalan brings together the worlds of Unbreakable and Split, and the result is depressing and disappointing. After regaining most of his directorial mojo with his most recent work, Shyamalan now takes a huge, unfortunate step backwards, tarnishing the legacy of Unbreakable, his best movie, in the process.

In 2000, M. Night Shyamalan dropped Unbreakable on unsuspecting moviegoers. The filmmaker was still riding high from his acclaimed, breakout hit The Sixth Sense, with some going so far as to proclaim him the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg. Everyone wanted to see what Shyamalan was going to do next, and the anticipation for Unbreakable was high. The filmmaker was reuniting with Bruce Willis, and once again telling a creepy story. At least, that's what the trailers made it look like. The vague, ominous marketing played things close to the vest. All we, the moviegoing public, knew was that Willis played a man who miraculously survived a deadly train crash without a single scratch on him. How mysterious! How intriguing!

I distinctly remember seeing Unbreakable opening weekend with a few friends. I'd loved The Sixth Sense, and was thrilled to see what this new film was all about. The lights went down. The studio logos came up. And then a curious thing happened. A title card faded onto the screen, talking about...comic books. The text rattled off factoids about comic books – the number of pages in a typical comic, the amount sold in the U.S., how many the average collector might own. "Is this about comic books?" one of my friends blurted out incredulously. It was. And it was wonderful.

It's easy to forget, now that we're inundated with superhero movies practically every other week, but Shyamalan's film was extremely ahead of the curve 19 years ago. It's not that no one had made comic book movies before. It was that Shyamalan was one of the first filmmakers attempting to take superheroes seriously. Long before Christopher Nolan would influence filmmakers with his Dark Knight Trilogy, Shyamalan was asking: "What if superheroes existed in the real world?" The result was the best film of his career. A moody, melancholy story of extraordinary, sad people who don't quite fit in. Bathed in cold blues and rainy nights, it's a lonely film.

I've happily stuck with Shyamalan through thick and thin. While others started to turn on the wizkid filmmaker and his penchant for twists, I held fast. I unabashedly love The Village, which seems to be the film that officially turned the tide against him once and for all. And I even have a soft spot for his ridiculous B-movie The Happening. After several misfires (let's not even talk about that Last Airbender movie, okay?), the filmmaker worked his way back to the top. First with the wonderfully nasty found footage flick The Visit. And then, even better, with the thriller SplitThe Visit felt like Shyamalan testing the waters. Split was him diving right in. It showed that he still could bring his A-game, building dread, employing wonderful camera techniques, and presenting the audience with compelling characters. And yes, he threw a whopper of a twist in at the end, revealing that Split was set in the same universe as Unbreakable.

Which brings us (finally) to Glass. The long-awaited Unbreakable sequel that brings back characters from Shyamalan's masterpiece, and blends them with the characters from his most recent hit. This is an interesting idea, and all the pieces were in place for Shyamalan to finally solidify his comeback once and for all. To prove all the detractors wrong and reclaim the effusive praise that found him early in his career. But that's not what happens here. Instead, Glass shatters under the weight of Shyamalan's ambition. It's a messy, muddled, often downright stupid movie. It broke my heart.

The first ten to fifteen minutes of Glass are thrilling, playing out as if Shyamalan is pitching himself to take over the Batman franchise. David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the man who found out he was a real-life, super-strong, almost invincible superhero in Unbreakable, has continued his quest to fight evil. He prowls the mean streets of Philadelphia wearing his green hooded rain slicker, beating the living hell out of petty thugs. David is assisted by his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), who was a kid in Unbreakable, but is all grown-up now. Joseph is like the Oracle to Dunn's Batman – the voice in his head via an earpiece. The two have a pretty good system, and in years since Unbreakable, David has become a local legend. He even has a (somewhat silly) superhero nickname – The Overseer (he was also previously called The Tip-Toe Man, something he really doesn't want to talk about).

David has been tracking Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), the escaped villain from Split. Kevin suffers from dissociative identity disorder, with 23 distinct personalities speaking through him at any given moment. But the most dangerous personality is The Beast, which turns Kevin into a superhuman, blood-thirsty monster that can crawl upside down on the ceiling. David and The Beast face-off rather quickly, in a brutal fight that Shyamalan films with real energy and power – the action sequences in Glass are the best of the filmmaker's career.

glass movie review

But Glass isn't your normal superhero vs. super-villain film. Because David and Kevin are quickly captured, and end up in a mental institution under the care of Sarah Paulson's Dr. Ellie Staple. Dr. Staple specializes in treating individuals who think they're superheroes, and she wants to convince David and Kevin that they're not superhuman. They're delusional. Further complicating matters is the fact that Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), aka Mr. Glass – the baddie from Unbreakable – is also locked up in the asylum. Dr. Staple is trying to convince him he's delusional, too.

This set-up is solid, and if Glass were the first film in this series, it might have weight. But here's the problem: we know Dr. Staple is wrong. We have two previous films that proved David really is a superhero, and Kevin really does turn into a flesh-eating monster. The audience knowing this knocks this particular storyline off-kilter, and that's unfortunate, because it ends up being the driving narrative for a huge chunk of the film, culminating in something so ill-conceived that I'm shocked it made it into the final cut.

I'll tread carefully here to avoid major spoilers, but don't expect Glass to be an Unbreakable sequel. This is less an Unbreakable follow-up, and more of a continuation of Split. Worst of all, it severely tarnishes the legacy of Unbreakable, dumbing-down the dark, adult-driven elements that made that film so special, swapping them for silliness. And while Willis' character is technically present in the entire movie, but he takes a backseat to Kevin's story. On top of that, Willis is phoning in his performance. The actor does a lot of that lately – "sleepy" seems to be his only acting style now. But Shyamalan was able to draw two of Willis' best performances out in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Third time isn't the charm, though, and Willis comes across as utterly bored with everything going on here. Then again, I can't say I blame him.

Jackson, too, is sidelined until the third act of the film. When he finally kicks into full-blown Mr. Glass mode, it's a delight – Jackson is clearly having a blast playing such a devious character. But it's almost too little, too late. Anya Taylor-Joy is also back as Casey Cooke, the sole survivor from Split. And while her storyline here is absolutely preposterous, Taylor-Joy almost makes it work with her tearful performance. As for McAvoy, he's acting so hard here I'm surprised he didn't throw his back out. The actor has found the perfect way to slip from one personality to the next, but Shyamalan repeats this trick so many times that it starts to turn into schtick. How many god damn scenes of Kevin switching voices and postures must we see? We get it.

You can forget Mr. Glass and The Beast. Editing is the real villain of GlassUnbreakable was tight and enthralling. Sure, it moved at a slow, reserved pace, but there was life burning in that unhurried momentum. Glass is lost in seemingly endless scenes that clobber the viewer over the head with the same info again, and again, and again. There's one specific therapy scene where Dr. Staple talks to all three super-men at once that goes on for so long, with such dreadful pacing, that I started to wonder if the projector was malfunctioning and playing the same scene on a loop.

The comic book mythology Shyamalan built into Unbreakable was just right. I wouldn't call it subtle, exactly, but it was done in a graceful, even poetic way. It made sense. Here, the writer-director has characters repeatedly throwing out comic book trivia in order to provide context for certain scenes. And it's context we don't need. There's a late-breaking scene where certain characters are about to have a big, dramatic showdown. So what does Shyamalan do? He cuts to another character saying, more or less, "This sort of thing happens in comic books! They call it a showdown!" Yeah, no shit.

As Glass unfolded, I desperately searched for something to grab hold of, like a drowning man trying to snag a life preserver. I've supported and enjoyed Shyamalan's work for so long that to sit and watch Glass play out in such a sloppy, sloggy fashion felt jarring. "Have I been wrong this entire time?" I thought. "Is Shyamalan a bad filmmaker after all?"

The answer is no. In his past work, he's displayed a wonderful knowledge of cinematic language, and a masterful control of the camera. But none of that is on display in Glass, which only has a few memorable shots spliced into a visually bland, flat space. This becomes even more noticeable when the director cuts in some deleted scenes from Unbreakable, which look gorgeous, atmospheric, and, well, cinematic. Where did the filmmaker who shot those scenes 19 years ago disappear to? Like Superman exposed to kryptonite, directing Glass has robbed Shyamalan of his powers. I can only hope he gets them back soon.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10