Updated: Feb 7, 2020
The sci-fi thriller Glass is the third part of a trilogy writer/director M. Night Shyamalan started nearly two decades ago, when he was seen as a promising up-and-coming filmmaker. The first movie in the series was 2000’s Unbreakable, a drama about the relationship between a man who had never been hurt and a brilliant man with very brittle bones. At the end (nineteen year-old spoiler alert!) it was revealed to be a superhero origin story. His intention was to continue that story, but the bloom fell off his rose a few years later and his popularity basically evaporated. In 2016, he made Split, a thriller about a man with split personality disorder who kidnaps a group of teenage girls to sacrifice them to one of those personalities. That would be the beast, who supposedly has supernatural abilities. Split ended with the revelation that (three year-old spoiler alert!) it took place in the same universe as Unbreakable. That is the direct setup for Glass, which attempts to build upon the intriguing ideas Shyamalan established in the first two entries. Sadly, it misses as often as it hits.
As the story begins, David (the hero of Unbreakable) is still fighting crime and Kevin (the protagonist of Split) is still kidnapping teenage girls. Their paths meet, leading to their capture and placement in a psychiatric hospital, where David’s old nemesis, Elijah, already resides. They are being treated by Dr. Staple, who specializes in taking care of people who believe they have superpowers. That is pretty much all I can say without getting into spoiler territory here.
Shyamalan does a decent job paying off some of the setup, especially in regards to the three main characters. Although one of them does not come off nearly as well as the other two. The least interesting of them is David Dunn. He got to be the hero of his own story in Unbreakable, but here he is essentially just a plot device. Every villain needs a hero to be their foil and that is his sole purpose here. It is a really dull role Bruce Willis is unable to bring much to.
Thankfully, the villains fare significantly better. Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah (or Mr. Glass) remains a fascinating creation. A man whose broken body is made up for by his incredible mind. He is less purely evil than he is intensely curious about mankind’s ability to do the extraordinary. He wants to find people as remarkable as him, regardless of the collateral damage. Despite his weakness, he is the most active and powerful character in this universe. He showed the most growth from the beginning of the series to the end.
Kevin, the man with 24 personalities existing within the same body, is an okay character given life by an amazing performance. As in Split, James McAvoy is absolutely tremendous at changing accents, speech patterns and body language. Not only does he have to do this multiple times in a single scene, sometimes he has to do it during a single sentence. He is also mostly a plot device but, unlike David, it is very entertaining just watching him do his thing.
Shyamalan chose some good themes. A lot can be said about the effect of comic books on society as well as the human desire to push ourselves beyond our supposed limits in an effort to do the unexplainable. Unfortunately, Glass (123 minutes, minus the end credits) takes way too much time to address them. There are several well-crafted individual scenes, but the story fails to go anywhere for a long while. Once it does, it generates some suspense. However, the ending is a bit of a misfire. All of a sudden, Glass becomes busy in its final act, with a lot twists and revelations. Maybe those will land better for you than they did for me. As a whole, it is cool to see this series come to its conclusion. I heartily recommend it to fans of the first two. You will want to see how it ends, even if it is kind of a disappointment.
3 out of 5
James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb
Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price
Bruce Willis as David Dunn
Sarah Paulson as Dr. Ellie Staple
Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph Dunn
Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke
Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s Mother
Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan