Looks like it’s time to take another dance with M. Night Shyamalan. The phoenix-like writer/director who rose to fame back in 1999 with the “Sixth Sense,” devolved into mediocrity before nose-diving through the bottom of the blockbuster barrel before finding some redemption with a pair of low-budget thrillers that proved he still has enough talent to warrant consideration. Shyamalan doesn’t really have a contemporary. I can’t remember a director who achieved such success only to see it reduced to soot. That’s happened to plenty of creators. Those who have been able to build something worth mentioning out of the charred remnants of their careers are far less common.
“Glass” is Shyamalan’s attempt to capitalize on the success of 2016’s excellent “Split,” the multiple personality thriller starring James McAvoy as a serial killer possessed by 23 distinct characters. It was a fantastic thriller, with some great performances. It even came with a special surprise at the end—a piece of cinematic connective tissue linking “Split” and Shyamalan’s 1999 hit, “Unbreakable.” The third film in the trilogy sees the characters from both films merged into a shared narrative using a real-world approach to the concept of superhumans walking among us.
The film opens with David Dunn (Bruce Willis) continuing to be a street-level savior for the people of Philadelphia. Back in 2000’s “Unbreakable,” we learned that David believes he has some superhuman abilities, including an ability to sense people’s dark secrets by touching them, as well as being unusually strong. He is encouraged by Elijah Price (Samuel Jackson) to explore those abilities. Price was cruelly nicknamed “Mr. Glass” as a child suffering from a condition that makes his bones extremely brittle. He is driven to the brink of insanity, trying to prove there are special people in the world and he was not some cruel mistake.
David is on the lookout for The Horde (James McAvoy), the crazed dissociative identity disorder still brutally murdering innocent people after escaping at the end of “Split.” Dunn eventually finds some cheerleaders he was preparing to sacrifice and mutilate. The Horde shows up and they try to beat the living hell out of one another. Before they can conclude their beat down, Doctor Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) shows up with a SWAT team and brings them into custody.
Both are whisked away to a mental institution where they are joined by Mr. Glass and presented with an interesting hypothesis: What if they aren’t actually superhumans but suffering from delusions of grandeur? It’s an interesting premise—more interesting than the movie ever really explores. Eventually, the super-intelligent Mr. Glass convinces The Horde to join him, and they concoct a crazy escape plan with the intention of revealing their superhuman elements to the world. Only David can stop them, but does he truly believe he’s unbreakable?
There are a lot of interesting fragments to Shyamalan’s “Glass.” The characters are engaging and the premise feels unique. However, the most fascinating elements are never given enough time to bake. There’s so much shoehorned into the movie it never feels like it achieves lift-off. It’s three hours of story crammed into two hours of movie. There’s a difference between leaving the audience wanting more and not spending enough time on the story to have everything feel cohesive. There’s also trademark Shyamalan gaffes, most notably clunky dialogue that feels unnatural and at times cringe-inducing. It’s strange after 20 years of making movies that Shyamalan has never really improved or refined his style. He’s still shooting movies with the creative precision of shotgun blasts, only occasionally hitting the mark.
I can understand why people wouldn’t like “Glass.” It’s a messy, undercooked cinematic casserole that never really builds on the previous installments. Yet, I found merit in the mess. I enjoyed seeing the characters again. I liked the promise of a premise ultimately unfulfilled.
Ultimately, the movie is saved by its actors. Samuel Jackson and James McAvoy deliver great performances, and the film has a level of moving melancholy. Fans of “Unbreakable” and “Split” may see something worthwhile in “Glass.” Others might see it as a broken mess that needs to be swept into the trash.