Director: M Night Shyamalan
Stars: Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Willis, James McAvoy
Extreme reactions are often not constructive and point toward a preconceived bias or clouded objectivity. My writing is sometimes deliberately subjective, and I find the line between the two porous. Still, though skeptical of M Night Shyamalan’s ability to work himself out of the hole he has made of his career, I wouldn’t actively have wished him failure, and regardless of my own thoughts on The Visit or Split, both saw him painted as a phoenix, rising from the flames of his own wayward indulgences.
When Split ended (spoiler alert) with the big reveal that it connected to Unbreakable, and that Shyamalan was building his own cinematic universe, Glass became inevitable. This would be his victory lap. The one to show everyone.
Or not. Maybe, like any man who has found failure to be truly freeing, Shyamalan now seeks only to please himself? It certainly appears so…
If this is his version of an Avengers movie then suddenly Age Of Ultron‘s rep isn’t looking quite so bad. Glass is a steaming hot mess of a film, and perhaps the most guilty of unchecked decision-making to have been loosed on the world since Kevin Smith handed us Tusk. Picking up some three weeks after the events of Split, it finds security consultant / superhuman vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) prowling the streets in a rain slicker, beating up hooligans, all the while hoping to catch ‘The Beast’; the strong, animalistic personality hidden among the 24 that make up DID fugitive Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). In these weeks Crumb has murdered more young women, and holds four cheerleaders hostage as Dunn closes in. But both of these larger than life characters are captured and incarcerated at Raven Hills; a psychiatric facility that also houses brittle-boned mastermind Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson), better known to some as Mr Glass.
Here the film settles down – for a good 90 minutes or so – as Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) tries to convince the three of them that their superpowers are mere delusions; this despite Shyamalan having taken two whole movies establishing that they’re not. It’s a dramatic cul-de-sac stuffed with elaborate, sometimes laughable conveniences (Staple knows just how to subdued her subjects and has a wholly arbitrary three-day deadline to complete her work). In fact, Shyamalan’s deck is so clearly stacked in his own favour that he tips his hand; of course there’s going to be a twist. Everything’s too weirdly elaborate for their not to be.
So we’re left biding our time. This in itself is not so bad. Glass is chocked with interesting performers (Paulson, chiefly, though Anya Taylor-Joy makes a welcome return following Split), but Shyamalan’s script wastes two of this burgeoning franchise’s key players. Despite his character’s name acting as banner for the whole movie, Jackson’s Elijah Price aka Glass is in a near vegetative state, which doesn’t exactly allow the actor much room to operate. Willis is similarly kept on ice; his far-fetched imprisonment brings back better memories of more spirited work for Terry Gilliam in Twelve Monkeys. The floor is more often yielded to McAvoy, whose multiple personality performance is as exhausting as it is borderline offensive. He at least brings some energy to things.
If the worst a film can be is plodding then it is no great calamity, but then Shyamalan opens the box for an extended third act that, frankly, capsizes hard. Unlikely as it may seem, Glass manages to become both ridiculous and immensely tedious at the same time, actively damaging the reputation of Unbreakable in the process. Widely considered Shyamalan’s second-best feature, it is tainted by association with the galactic garbage of this movie’s denouement. Shyamalan piles in lumpen, nonsensical exposition, flashbacks, whatever he can think of to keep the audience on track with his over-wrought revelations. Glass feels like an idea its creator is too close to. Better judgement has been dashed.
It’s difficult to actively loathe or dislike such a fundamentally bad and bafflingly constructed film (good luck, newcomers), but the film is bad. It fits together only fleetingly, as though Shyamalan assumes his audience’s concentration is as fickle and susceptible to change as Kevin Crumb’s personalities. Even when events are moronic, they’re rarely entertaining. The movie doesn’t even look good. Shyamalan opens with horribly distracting credits over action, loves a garish Dutch angle way too much, and an awkward close-up even more. Say what you like about the ending of The Village; that movie was beautiful.
But I’m not sure even Roger Deakins could’ve saved this one. All the time you can sense Shyamalan tittering at the things that please him (nods to DC and Marvel; another dreadful cameo role for himself), but Glass seems to have little interest in sating the audience that have come this distance. How does this film enhance the characters of either Unbreakable and Split? Both sets are poorly serviced, and to what end? In what parallel dimension are the events that close Glass satisfying, or even interesting? Shyamalan seems sadly out of touch; something reflected in his insistence that a video of a strongman or the opening of a tall building in Philadelphia might be world-changing viral media events. Things like this make Glass curiously weird, at least.
Ultimately though, coming in at over two hours, what could’ve been a batty genre movie or guilty pleasure is simply a slog. Glass isn’t sensationally bad. There’s no need for indignation or venom. Hyperbole isn’t necessary. It’s just bad. Which is somehow worse.