This review may contain spoilers.
There’s three main categories of bad movies: 1. The Unremarkable- films that leave your mind as you’re walking out of the multiplex to your car. 2. The Offensive- an affront to your very existence as a filmgoer; memorable only through how excruciating it was to sit through. And 3. The Provocative- a special kind of bad where you marinate on all the ways it was uniquely a mess. M. Night Shyamalan is the ultimate auteur of this third category and Glass is no exception.
Glass is the finale to a stealth trilogy of films composed of Unbreakable (among Shyamalan’s strongest) and Split (a fun horror romp). When I reached the end of the latter, with Bruce Willis’ shoehorned cameo I was sold on Glass because the idea is so crazy it has to work. It doesn’t.
Glass opens with Shyamalan going full B-movie, as Willis’ David Dunn tries to stop James McAvoy’s Kevin Crumb from murdering a group of cheerleaders. It’s a fun and offbeat sequence that culminates in a scrimmage between the two. Then they get whisked away to a drab mental hospital for the rest of the bloated runtime. The hospital should be a perfect setting to explore the psyche of these two characters and their identity as a respective hero and villain. M. Night hints at these ideas but they’re undercooked and tossed aside for wall to wall monologues that just summarize tropes of comic books. It’s not a deconstruction so much as a dissertation and a wasted Sarah Paulson is there to guide you through it all with excessive exposition.
Unbreakable and Split both operate in the genre of psychological thriller- one contemplative and the other campy. Glass sets you up to think it’s a comic book movie before turning into… whatever this is. M. Night toys with conventions in little ways- including a bait and switch finale but none of them make significant commentary on the genre itself. Almost every scene is people sitting in aesthetically boring rooms talking about the nature of super heroes. The idea of a comic book movie built on conversations instead of spectacle is inspired but there’s low stakes and little forward narrative momentum.
A big part of this disconnect is lack of an emotional core. Willis seems totally uninterested in his performance and absent for long stretches of its runtime. Samuel L. (who carried much of Unbreakable’s emotional weight) is silent for half the movie before he wakes up… to monologue about the nature of superheroes. James McAvoy is riveting* as he goes balls out, giving the most committed performance but it’s hard to sympathize with someone who kidnaps underage girls (and yes, Shyamalan asks the audience to). Anya Taylor-Joy is used as Kevin’s prop to find redemption in a Stockholm Syndrome-esque relationship that Shyamalan never presents as disturbing. Kevin murdered all her friends a couple weeks earlier, there’s no way she’s gonna be helping him now. With no one to feel invested in the conversations drag on and on, deep into tedium.
M. Night is inconsistent with how we’re supposed to view Glass’ world: he presents these Gods among men as grounded yet so frequently has elements that are ridiculous. So many half baked threads appear throughout: what is the organization Sarah Paulson belongs to? Why does the SWAT team drown Bruce Willis in a puddle? How will unveiling a video of two men fighting in a parking lot change the world? I love ambiguity in film but this just felt like the script had a few more drafts to go. One thing he is clear on is the theme, institutions can prevent individuals from being “super” and how we need to rise above with belief. What he lacks is a coherent story or characters to make that message effective.
Also, “that sounds like the bad guys teaming up” is among the worst lines of dialogue I’ve heard.
I do admire M. Night for trying something so daring but I found myself loving the idea of Glass more than the execution. I’ve had more fun reading critic’s takes on this film than I did sitting through it. Shyamalan accomplished SOMETHING at least for inspiring all this great discussion but if you go into Glass with any expectations… prepare to be shattered.
*I can’t overstate how good McAvoy is here. He turns from funny to menacing on a dime. That scene where the light makes him cycle through all his different personalities, brilliant. I found him to be somewhat irritating in Split but this go round his rampant intensity was the perfect tonic for the overall void of charisma.