By Jim Slotek
I can appreciate M. Night Shyamalan’s frustration over his 2000 film Unbreakable, a dark movie on a people-with-superpowers theme, made at a time when the studio involved snorted at the idea that the subject would interest an audience.
Glass – the sort of tacked-on sequel to his 2016 thriller Split –posits itself as the third part of a trilogy. And it really comes off as Shyamalan with a lot to get off his chest, and slightly more than two hours to say it in.
Unfortunately, the director who came in too early for the superhero craze may now be revisiting it too late. The genre now monopolizes the multiplex, and it seems as if everything about comic books and superpowers and misanthropy has already been said.
But Shyamalan still says it, in an unfocused movie with some interesting ideas, and so much expositional dialogue in place of action, it’s sometimes more of a lecture than a thriller.
Glass (the title refers to Unbreakable’s physically fragile evil mastermind Mr. Glass, played by Samuel L. Jackson) takes place weeks after the events in Split. Kevin Crumb (a still-impressive James McAvoy) remains on the loose, a multiple-personality case nicknamed The Horde, with 20-something individuals living inside him. Among them: The Beast, a superhuman with an occasional taste for human flesh. He’s continuing his modus operandi of kidnapping groups of teenage girls (cheerleaders preferred), and introducing them to each persona before dispatching them.
But he is now targeted by Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a man who, after being the sole survivor of a horrific train crash, discovered he was indestructible and capable of absorbing memories of other people’s misdeeds at a touch. A masked vigilante, as any such person would opt to become, he’s operating as a hooded figure nicknamed The Overseer, and is every bit as much a target of a police manhunt as his quarry.
So, it’s not surprising when both the Overseer and The Horde end up apprehended in the course of battle, and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane.
As happens in movies, it’s the same hospital that holds Elijah Price, a.k.a. Mr. Glass, the now seemingly out-of-it mass killer behind the aforementioned trainwreck. So, the central characters of two films are reunited in a third, as the mental health professionals try to cure their delusions of being “special.”
Much of Glass is handed over to Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson), whose mission it is to convince self-described superheroes that their abilities are nothing more than what an agitated normal person could do. Almost a comic figure at times in her pontificating, she’s a veritable Nurse Ratched for the genre fans who are expected to be this movie’s audience. The pernicious influence of comic books is an obsession. “Have you ever been to a comic book convention?” she sneers.
Operating on the outside are David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), the Horde captive who got away and even forged a bond with her captor, and Elijah’s mother (Charlayne Woodard), who, while trying to help their respective others, communicate the counter message that comic books represent a primal memory of our hidden abilities, or something. This narrative can’t help but seem like pandering to comic book fans with hurt feelings over the tendency to dismiss their medium as childish.
What was the best thing in Split is still the best thing in Glass – McAvoy’s acting-lab-calibre ability to switch wildly disparate personalities on a dime, or in this case at the flash of a light. These scenes are parsed out sparingly, of course, to make room for all that other stuff.
This being a Shyamalan movie, there is a twist, and then another twist, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Glass. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Bruce Willis, James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson. Opens wide, Friday, January 18.