This is the first M. Night Shyamalan film I have looked forward to watching in over a decade. After the cinematic atrocity which was “The Last Airbender,” I had given up all hope of him returning to his former filmmaking glory. Then there was “After Earth” which did the impossible; it robbed Will Smith of his natural charisma, and it came with the pathetic tagline of “fear is a choice.” But now we have this highly anticipated 2019 film which combines characters from “Unbreakable” and “Split,” the latter being the first Shyamalan movie in ages to earn a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. As much as I try to leave my expectations at the door, this one piqued my interest ever since I got a look at its first trailer.
Well, the good news is that “Glass” is no “Last Airbender” as Shyamalan has managed to find his footing again as a filmmaker. The bad news is “The Sixth Sense” director still has yet to regain his mojo as a screenwriter. This long-awaited conclusion to his own superhero trilogy proves to be a disappointing misfire as the promises it looked to contain fall flat long before its misconceived climax which contains more endings than “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and proves to be as frustrating as the one in “The Matrix Revolutions.”
Through a series of events, both David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Kevin Wendell Crumb and his 23 different personalities which he refers to as The Horde (all of them played by James McAvoy) end up being imprisoned at a mental institution where Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) has resided at for over a decade. The three are put under the care of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist whose specialty is working with patients whom she believes are suffering from delusions of grandeur. She wants to convince them they are not the superhuman beings they believe themselves to be, but we already know she will be in for one hell of a surprise.
“Glass” starts off interestingly enough as it reintroduces us to its three main characters with underplayed relish. Seeing David do battle with the most dangerous of Kevin’s personalities, The Beast, is fun as we see these comic book characters, or superheroes if you will, battle one another in a world more real to us than any in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also doesn’t take too long for these two to be put under the same roof with Mr. Glass who looks to be in a vegetative state, but we know when looking into his twitchy eyes that he is waiting to prove his latest comic book theory for all the world to see. Seeing Jackson’s face reminded me of when Dr. Loomis confronted a young Michael Myers in “Halloween” as he stared listlessly out a window. Loomis says to him, “You fooled them, haven’t you Michael? But not me…”
But once “Glass” moves into the mental asylum, Shyamalan’s version of Arkham, the film begins to fall apart as these three characters cannot come together in a fully satisfying way, and things begin to drag as he underplays everything to where everyone needed an overdose of coffee or Red Bull. Granted, Shyamalan likes to underplay things instead of numbing us with endless explosions and characters yelling at one another for no special reason, but I would have loved it if he presented his stories in an overblown manner for once.
And yes, being an M. Night Shyamalan film, this one has the kind of twists he has been employing constantly since “The Sixth Sense.” However, the twists he has in store for us in “Glass” failed to blow my mind in any stimulating way, and they only served to make an already frustrating film even more frustrating as a result. Nothing comes together in a way which makes much sense, and it reminded me of how sick I get of Shyamalan’s need to stay one step ahead of the audience in an effort to outdo his previous work. This has been a big problem for me since “The Village,” and things aren’t getting much better.
By the time he reveals his twists in “Glass,” I had already lost much interest in the story as I found my mind wandering constantly to where thoughts of “Good Will Hunting” danced in my head. As much as I am determined to accept movies for what they are instead of what I want them to be, I kept thinking of the various ways this one could have been greatly improved. Seriously, it would have been far more interesting to see these three men trapped in a room together to where they are forced to deal with one another in a way they could not have expected. This could have been a superhero movie meets “The Breakfast Club” as these three could have discovered all the things they had in common to where they realize how all they have is each other.
As for the acting, it is mostly very good. It’s nice to see Bruce Willis reprising one of his best characters for the first time in years, and playing David Dunn allows the “Die Hard” actor to climb out of the VOD and direct to DVD muck he has been stuck in for far too long now (“Marauders” anyone?). James McAvoy has an actor’s dream role as he plays a character with multiple personalities, and he realizes each one with tremendous thought and precision to where I was in awe at what he pulled off here. As for Samuel L. Jackson, his role as Elijah/Mr. Glass remains one of his most unique as he portrays a “bad-ass motherfucker” who uses his mind instead of a gun or his fists to fulfill his needs.
The only performance I had issues with was Sarah Paulson’s. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a fantastic actress who has given many great performances and will give many more in the future, but watching her portray Dr. Ellie Staple was an extraordinarily strange experience. This is not altogether her fault as her character is ill-defined and not conceived in a particularly interesting way, and even when revelations about Ellie are made in the last act, it is not enough to save Paulson’s talents from being wasted. The actress spends most of her time staring at the three main characters or into the camera and looking ridiculously ethereal from start to finish, and it got to where I wanted to yell at the screen, “Hey, act normal! Stop looking so serene!”
For what it’s worth, “Glass” does represent a big step up for Shyamalan as a director. He still shows a solid skill for generating moments of high tension, and this is especially evident in the scene where a male nurse threatens to drop a flashlight onto Elijah’s fragile body. Even though the proceedings could have used a serious energy injection, Shyamalan still shows signs of a director’s mastery of suspense which I hope will serve him well in the future. There are only so many filmmakers who can fall down so far and get a second chance in Hollywood, and I am certain the box office will make clear he is here to stay. But as a writer, he still needs a helping hand as the screenplay has several plot holes you could drive a fleet of double decker busses through.
To watch “Glass” is to analyze it for what it could have been instead of what it is. Shyamalan has succeeded in creating a cinematic universe which Hollywood studios salivate over on a regular basis as the possibilities for sequels appeal to them greatly, but what ends up on the silver screen is inescapably underwhelming. I am happy to say it is no “Last Airbender” and infinitely more entertaining than “After Earth,” but Shyamalan still has yet to regain his former glory as a celebrated filmmaker in the eyes of audiences around the world.
* * out of * * * *