glass international trailer

“Please enjoy this film that took 19 years to make!”

This sentence greeted me as I sat down at a pre-release screening of Glass last week, as the final part of a letter from its writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan to the audience. The upshot of the letter was basically, “Please don’t spoil Glass” (which I’m about to do, so…sorry!) but I could not help but latch onto that last sentence as I steeled myself for the crossover between two of Shyamalan’s earlier films, Unbreakable and Split. As a fan of the former film, a meditation on loneliness as filtered through a comic-book lens, I was hopeful that this follow-up was worth the wait.

Now that I’ve seen Glass, I fear that it would’ve taken the director at least another 19 years to make this movie any good.

Bruce Willis in Glass

Bringing Two Worlds Together

First, a little context for the curious: I am not the biggest defender of every M. Night Shyamalan film. Now that he’s made 13 films (and I’ve seen all of them), I’d argue that he’s made just five good ones, including both Unbreakable and Split. If it wasn’t for the abrupt ending of Unbreakable — with closing title cards telling us what happened to David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) after David learns that Elijah deliberately caused several disasters in Philadelphia, killing hundreds of people specifically so he could find a person with superpowers — it would be my favorite of Shyamalan’s films. Split is a lot more ridiculous, and you could make a very solid argument that its commentary on the long-term effects of sexual abuse is real problematic. But James McAvoy’s performance is charmingly over-the-top, and Anya Taylor-Joy matches him in her own distinct way.

So I wanted to like Glass. And it starts somewhat strongly, as we see Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy) back to his old tricks: he’s kidnapped four helpless young women, all cheerleaders, and has them locked up in an abandoned red-brick factory somewhere in Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to Kevin (and the other twentysomething personalities housed in his mind), he’s on a collision course with the hero of Unbreakable, an older, more grizzled-looking David Dunn. 19 years later, David is a widower who runs his own home-security store with his adult son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), but his secret identity is that of The Overseer, a vigilante avenging all types of crimes. (The first time we see him in his dark poncho, he’s taking out two schmucks who are “Superman-punching” random people on the street.)

Joseph still idolizes his dad, whose true aim is to take down the Horde (the nickname given to Kevin by the media), but the younger man is concerned his dad’s, basically, getting too old for this shit. (The two of them have a tetchy back-and-forth during which we get a cameo from Shyamalan himself. Remember when he played the drug dealer at the stadium in Unbreakable? And had, like, one line of dialogue? Sure you do! You’ll definitely appreciate this movie calling back to that cameo.) Joseph, it turns out, is right to be concerned: when David goes on a walk around town, he walks by Kevin, realizes he’s facing down the Horde, after which they get into a fight stopped only by a slew of cops and a friendly-sounding psychiatrist.

glass clips

A Hero And Villain Go Head-to-Head

The fight scene, before it’s unexpectedly stopped, would be more enjoyable if it didn’t showcase an unavoidable problem: Bruce Willis. Two of this A-lister’s best performances are in Shyamalan films, and there’s even more recent evidence that Willis can work with unique directors in great films. (Remember Moonrise Kingdom and Looper?) Returning to play David Dunn might suggest a return to form, but here’s the thing: Bruce Willis is not in a lot of this movie, and when he is, he’s barely engaged. The action sequences, including this first-act battle, seem designed to hide Willis’ face so his stunt double can perform hand-to-hand combat. What should be an exciting tete-a-tete doesn’t work because only McAvoy (who’s appropriately muscly) is the only one who seems like he’s invested in the proceedings.

As mentioned, those proceedings come to an unexpected end after David frees himself from Kevin/The Beast’s bear-hug grip. Once he drags them both out a window, outside the factory, they’re both shocked to see a lot of cops in riot gear and Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who has some flashing-light technology that can physically force Kevin’s personalities to change in an instant. Before you can wonder how it is that Dr. Staple and the cops knew where to find Dunn and the Beast, she immediately remands the two of them to Raven Hill Memorial Hospital for further diagnosis. Once there, she reveals separately to them that her specialty is in focusing on people who think they’re superheroes, and breaking down those delusions.

And that, in effect, is the next hour of the movie.

glass movie review

Marking Time in The Hospital

Up to this point, I was kind of on board with Glass. It’s important to note here that this is much more of a sequel to Split; when I saw McAvoy billed above both Willis and Jackson, I was surprised, but it makes sense. He’s the main character again, and the only one who truly begins to doubt his own superpowers. But here’s the rub, and it’s something Chris Evangelista hit upon in his review at /Film: I know these characters have superpowers. I’ve seen Unbreakable. I’ve seen Split. There is no debate here: David Dunn and Kevin Wendell Crumb, within the context of this universe, have superpowers. Unbreakable, specifically, is about David Dunn accepting his identity. Split is about a character whose personalities are just waiting for him to embrace his own. The opening of Glass suggests that both men accept who they really are. So why do we need to watch another movie with these characters doing the exact same thing?

At this point, if you haven’t yet seen Glass (and trust me, you’re doing it right), you may wonder why I haven’t brought up Elijah Price yet. Of all the baffling, faux-daring things M. Night Shyamalan does in Glass, the top of the list is that a) Samuel L. Jackson does not appear in the first 30 minutes, and b) he does not say a single word for (and I checked my watch to verify this) the first 70 minutes. Elijah, as you may remember, wound up in a mental institution, and wouldn’t you know, it’s Raven Hill. He is, however, apparently sedated to the point where he’s been rendered mute. Dr. Staple wants to perform some procedure on Elijah, but aside from being mocked by the only two orderlies on duty (this hospital is woefully understaffed), nothing much seems to happen to Elijah these days. “Nothing much”, by the way, is the way I would describe the moment when David first encounters Elijah, after presumably 19 years. You might think that he’d be a little more shocked than just saying, a bit disdainfully, “This guy?” You would be wrong.

Of course, it’s revealed—more than an hour into the 130-minute movie—that Elijah is awake and very alert. Late one night, he first explores Kevin’s case file and is shocked by what he sees. (We’ll get to that.) Soon, he introduces himself to Kevin, in the hopes of meeting the Beast and determining whether he’s in the presence of another superpowered individual. They agree to work together, or as Elijah puts it “That sounds like the bad guys teaming up,” to prove that superpowers are real. That requires a fight between David and Kevin in a public place; specifically, the soon-to-open skyscraper Osaka Tower. (When we first learn of the Osaka Tower, it’s via a magazine cover that dubs it a “true marvel”. Get it? Because, you see, Marvel is a famous comic-book company. As insightful a reference as “That sounds like the bad guys teaming up.”)

So Elijah breaks himself and Kevin out — they each get to murder an orderly in gruesome fashion — and he encourages David to do the same. In the same way that Kevin was held back by Dr. Staple’s flashing-light technology, David’s room was fitted with high-pressure hoses meant to drown him if he fought back. (Keep in mind that Dr. Staple thinks David’s water phobia is solely in his mind, and that he…doesn’t have superpowers, so why would there be high-pressure hoses in his room?) But Elijah turns off the hoses, so David only has to break down a door, which will re-prove to David that he’s super-strong. Elijah tells David to meet them at the Osaka Tower, or else Elijah will blow up the building by using its own chemical-testing facility against it. (The Osaka Tower apparently has a chemical-testing facility.) David gets his poncho, and he faces off with Kevin…

…In the parking lot.

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About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.