Review: GLASS, Shattered and Otherwise
James McAvoy, Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson star in M. Night Shyamalan's would-be dramatic conclusion to a comic-book movie trilogy.
Playing like a lesser sequel to the painfully slow-moving Unbreakable (2000), as well as failing to live up to the more dynamic Split, M. Night Shyamalan's Glass concludes a comic-book movie trilogy with much extended exposition and very few, if any, surprises, adding up to an experience filled with earnest lethargy and aimless disappointment.
Shyamalan broke through with his third feature film, The Sixth Sense (1999), which was cleverly written and superbly crafted. Ever since then, he has struggled to live up to his own flash of genius, conjuring up ever more lackluster narrative twists in Signs (2002) and The Village (2004), before sinking to a new low with Lady in the Water (2006).
He followed that with The Happening (2008), which used up all its ingenuity in setting up its franky disturbing premise, and then tried his hand at something different with The Last Airbender (2010), which I haven't seen yet, and After Earth (2013), which I have seen and wish I hadn't.
The filmmaker recharged his batteries with the lovely and eerie pilot for TV's Wayward Pines and the low-budget The Visit, which bore a fleeting resemblance to a funhouse ride, as I wrote in my review. That film reinforced for me that, though Shyamalan can come up with great ideas for movies and execute then quite well as a director, he has been consistently hobbled by his own limitations as a screenwriter. His characters are rarely fleshed out, and his narratives are overly reliant on talking, rather than acting.
Something similar happened with Split. Our own Kwenton Bellette enjoyed the film more than I did, as reflected in his review.
In a very serious and threatening manner, Split introduced Dennis (James McAvoy), aka Kevin Wendell Crumb, aka Patricia, aka Hedwig, aka The Beast, aka etc., an individual with Dissociative Identity Disorder. The character, split into 23 different personalities, returns in Glass, again threatening young women in Philadelphia.
He is stalked by David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the main character in Unbreakable, now running a small security equipment retail store with his teenage son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark, who also played the character in Unbreakable). Eventually, Dennis and David end up in a psychiatric facility where Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), aka Mr. Glass, has been confined for many years.
David and Dennis have been brought together with Elijah only for a few days, so that Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist claiming expertise in treating people suffering from the delusion that they are superheroes, can treat them. Also in the picture is Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), the only hostage ever released by Dennis / Kevin.
Friends who enjoyed Unbreakable far more than I did have told me that they most appreciated the film because it took superheroes seriously. That did set it apart back in 2000. Unlike the vigorous suspense and thrills offered in Split, however, Shyamalan appears determined to resume the conversation he started in Unbreakable, rehashing old arguments and recycling themes he still prefers to dominate the pop-culture conversation about superheroes and their relative necessity to modern civilization.
One big advantage of the modern Shyamalan, at least, is that he has broadened his palette with a greater portion of intentional humor, which he started doing (especially) with The Visit. The downside, though, is that integrating James McAvoy's character alongside those portrayed by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson means that the the individual with Dissociative Identity Disorder is the one who is the butt of nearly all the jokes, the comic relief between the more "serious" superhero scrum between the others.
Is that progress or regression? Help yourself, if you're intrigued. I've had enough.
Glass opens wide in theaters everywhere on Friday, January 19, 2019.