A film review by Craig J. Koban February 6, 2019


2019, PG-13, 129 mins.


James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb / The Horde / The Beast   /   Bruce Willis as David Dunn / The Overseer  /  Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price / Mr. Glass  /  Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke  /  Sarah Paulson as Dr. Ellie Staple  /  Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph Dunn  /  Charlayne Woodard as Mrs. Price  /  Luke Kirby as Pierce

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

At this late stage in the game I think a majority of filmgoers - and critics, for that matter - should be asking one simple question: 

How many more chances for cinematic redemption should one give writer/director M. Night Shyamalan? 

It's a legitimate question. 

The Indian filmmaker was once considered to be the next Spielberg, which feels like forever ago now, and with his career jump starting and multiple Oscar nominated THE SIXTH SENSE his future certainly looked promising.  He followed that up with UNBREAKABLE, which was a uniquely clever take on the whole super hero genre well before anyone was even whispering cinematic universe.  Then came his alien invasion thriller SIGNS - which I loved - and the world looked bright and open for Shyamalan.  

Then came one mercilessly awful film after another, and by the dawn of the 2010s the filmmaker's name became a punch line for mediocrity and how to fall from grace quickly. 

This, of course, brings me to 2017's SPLIT, a supernatural horror thriller involving a serial kidnapper/murderer afflicted with multiple personalities called "The Horde" that also manifested into a "Beast" with super human strength and ferocity.  The ending of that film contained a twist that, to be fair, no one really saw coming: With a brief David Dunn cameo (showing Bruce Willis reprise his meta human role from two decades back), it was revealed that the events of SPLIT were set in the same movie world as UNBREAKABLE, making SPLIT a direct sequel to that 2000 film.  Some lauded the reveal as brilliant, whereas I found it sort of arbitrarily tacked on for sheer shock value.  Nevertheless, the prospects of Dunn on the prowl for The Horde in a follow-up to SPLIT made the long-time diehard fan of UNBREAKABLE in me pretty giddy, in pure hindsight. 

All of this lengthy pre-amble to GLASS - which serves as a direct sequel to SPLIT and as a self-professed UNBREAKABLE trilogy closer by Shyamalan himself - forced me to deal with one nagging problem with this whole enterprise: SPLIT wasn't particularly good enough to earn the twist ending it contained, which leaves GLASS in the dubious and thankless position of trying to tie itself  together with two previous and mostly unrelated films.  No one should question Shyamalan's enthusiasm for this material, and undoubtedly there's pure excitement in the air in watching Willis' heroic Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson's UNBREAKABLE antagonist face off one more time, albeit with the added pressures of The Horde's animalistic unpredictability.  For roughly an hour plus, GLASS seemed to be delivering on Shyamalan's years of promises to deliver follow-up efforts to his cult classic, but as the film careened down towards a deeply half-baked and monumentally unsatisfying climax I was left with nagging feelings that this series closer lacked a compelling story, compelling character dynamics, a compelling third act, and a compelling reason for, well, existing in the first place.  To say that GLASS was severely underwhelming is an understatement. 



This is all too bad, because GLASS does open with remarkably assured and nimble footing by reintroducing us the main characters and catching us back up with them and where they've been all this time.  Of course, as we witnessed at the end of SPLIT, James MacAvoy's mentally unstable and super powerful "The "Beast", Kevin Wendell Crumb, was on the loose, with a hint that Dunn will be hot on his tail.  As we soon learn in the early stages of GLASS, Dunn is now a widow and runs a security company alongside his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark, who played a younger version of this character in UNBREAKABLE).  Serving as his dad's tech expert while he's in the field engaging in vigilante justice, Joseph is proud of the dynamic duo they've become over the years.  They eventually locate Crumb after he's ruthlessly kidnapped a high school cheerleading team, leading to a violent showdown between the rain coat adorned Dunn and The Beast, which ends with both of them being captured by police and locked up in a maximum security asylum for the criminally insane.  And, wouldn't ya know it, guess who else is there?  Elijah "Mr. Glass" Price himself, and the three of them are being brought together to be analyzed and treated by a mysterious and determined Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist that specializes in treating people with delusions of super hero grandeur.  Her end game is to convince Dunn, Crumb, and Price that they do not, in any way shape or form, have special powers, but the three of them, rather predictably, have other ideas. 

I'll give Shyamalan full credit for providing GLASS with a most novel hook in terms of bringing together these three characters in this high tech and high security research facility, and the film is indeed playful and intriguing early on in teasing audience members as to whether or not the doctor's claims are true (Paulson in particular is quite good as her stone cold and unwavering in her belief doctor).  To her, the real test is to make these lost souls believe that their beliefs in their extraordinary "gifts" are hogwash (granted, Mr. Glass' has the unfortunate condition of having extremely brittle bones that can easily shatter, so I'm not sure what she's trying to convince him of).  It is indeed a real trip to see McAvoy, Willis, and Jackson all occupy the same frame and having to team up, so to speak, to defend themselves against the doctor's treatment methods.  One of the other pleasures of GLASS - which was one of the few high points in SPLIT - is to see McAvoy once again utterly submerge himself within all of The Horde's divergent personalities; he's just as engagingly bonkers here. 

Unfortunately, though, I started asking myself a considerable number of questions about GLASS' internal logic the longer it progressed.  For example, it's established that The Horde can be stopped from unleashing the dangerous Beast by blasting strobe lighting at him (his room's entrance is surrounded by meticulously controlled lights that can flash him automatically if he makes any violent motion).  Why doesn't he just, say, grab a sheet off the bed, cover his eyes, and let the Beast come out?  Then there's the peculiar vulnerability of Dunn's, which was established in UNBREAKABLE to be issues with water, specifically an inability to swim.  GLASS oddly makes it seem like water simply making contact with Dunn will reduce him to powerlessness as kryptonite does with Superman (his room is surrounded by high pressure washer hoses primed to strike him when needed).  Now, if he just couldn't swim then why didn't he take up swimming lessons over the last twenty years?  Or, if water makes him weak, does that mean that Dunn hasn't showered in twenty years?  His hygiene must be unbearable to those around him. 

These laughably world and character building inconsistencies don't hurt GLASS all that much, but Shyamalan really has difficulties in terms of capitalizing on what he established in UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT and having everything pay off handsomely.  There's a wholly involving story to be told about characters that may or may not be psychologically displaced from reality, thinking that they're actually super heroes when they're not, and this, in turn, could have provided Shyamalan with even more opportunities for meta-referencing and subverting the comic book genre as a whole (or even the current trend of super hero cinematic universes).  The filmmaker regrettably doesn't seem to have the scripting faculty to make this material work, seeing as GLASS feels mostly like a hodgepodge recipe of good ideas and some good scenes that mightily struggle to come together to make a meaningful whole.   

Shyamalan's wobbly scripting doesn't do some of these iconic characters much justice.  For a film named after the character, very little attention is given the Jackson's Mr. Glass, and the only time this villain develops a pulse of intrigue is during its latter sections (more on that in a bit).  Very little else is explored in The Horde's back story or history, and Dunn himself - aside from some modest embellishment - isn't all that more refined as a character this go around (this is not helped by the fact that Willis seems to be lethargically sleep walking in his role this time, and seems to wholeheartedly lack passion or charisma).  Then there's the side characters, like Paulson's doctor, and despite her decent performance there's not much meat in this role to make her a truly absorbing adversary to these men (more or less, she bores us with repetitive rhetoric over and over again about how wrong these guys are about their abilities).  Worst of the bunch is Anya Taylor Joy's perplexing return as one of The Horde's victims from SPLIT, who now appears to have a weird emotional bond to him.  How this girl never ended up in a straight jacket after SPLIT'S conclusion after what she went through is a mystery; she brings nothing to the table here. 

GLASS' largest sin is its climax, which builds off of a daring escape (albeit under unintentionally funny means) of Glass and The Horde to face off against Dunn outside of the hospital and in broad daylight.  We do get and obligatory fight between The Horde and Dunn, but Shyamalan's annoying insistence on, yes, pulling the rug out from under audiences and resorting to his old bag of plot twisting tricks introduces a whole new angle to this shared cinematic universe that (a) feels aggressively added on at the last minute and (b) does a huge disservice to providing franchise closure to these characters.  Instead of finding a thoroughly captivating manner of bringing decades worth of eagerness by fans to see these cherished UNBREAKABLE personas come together again to a worthy narrative conclusion, all Shyamalan does here is engage in more unwanted and eleventh hour world building to flesh out the larger universe around them, which is a huge blunder.  And the way these characters and their respective arcs are brought to an end (one very specifically) will illicit eye rolling annoyance in viewers more than anything.  This final showdown in GLASS should have been utterly exhilarating, but instead is groan inducing.   

I opened this review by asking a question and will end it by asking another two prong one: Why did Shyamalan even make SPLIT and UNBREAKABLE sequel and, in turn, why did he wait so long to make it and GLASS?  Why weren't there UNBREAKABLE follow-up installments years ago?  I think it has less to do with Shyamalan having a grand and elaborate plan for them from the beginning as it did have more to do with the notion that he was trying to capitalize on the last ten years-plus of massive popularity in the super hero genre as a whole.  His aims feel more superficially opportunistic than they do artistic, and when considered as a whole now, UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT and GLASS all come off as square pegs of differing sizes trying to go into the same round hole, with Shyamalan forcibly trying to push them in.  He has certainly made worse films, and GLASS doesn't achieve the soul sucking awfulness of many of his biggest stinkers of the last decade, but it might be his most deeply unsatisfying film.  

The film, like Shyamalan's career, is truly broken.  

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