How much should we look forward to any new movie from M. Night Shyamalan? While he has made some good, fun movies, he does have a somewhat earned reputation as a producer of crap films.
However, his latest Glass is a sequel to two of his better ones: Unbreakable and his previous movie Split. Will Glass give us one of Shyamalan’s better works as a result, or will he slide back to the sorts of work that gave him that unreliable reputation?
So, here’s the thing: for all that Shyamalan has made some notoriously bad movies, he does have a signature style that mostly works. He can establish a mood very well, and his slow, graceful camera goes a long way to holding that mood. Shyamalan-the-director’s biggest problem has always been Shyamalan-the-writer. He’s basically a fairly talented B-movie director, and when he sticks to that wheelhouse, he can do good work. Besides, for all people bash him for stuff like killer trees, he does continue to make movies because someone keeps funding him. That brings us back to Glass.
Glass opens not long after the end of Split. The man with multiple personalities perhaps best known as the Horde (James McAvoy) has been kidnapping and killing people, and David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is out looking for it. Dunn has been covertly fighting crime for the last 19 years with assistance from his now-adult son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark, also reprising his Unbreakable role). Dunn and the particularly nasty personality known as “the Beast” meet, clash, and are then caught by the authorities, taken to be the same mental hospital that has been holding Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson) since the end of Unbreakable. While there, the three will be treated by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a specialist in treating people with delusions of superhero-dom. Are these guys legitimately superheroes in the making, or is it all in their heads? What treatment do they really need?
So, in many ways, Glass is something of a mess. Besides all the characters listed above, there’s also Anya Taylor-Joy returning as the lone survivor from Split and Charlayne Woodard reprising her own Unbreakable role as Jackson’s mother, leaving Robin Wright as the lone major member of the Unbreakable cast to sit this one out. And this level of focus makes for a somewhat disorienting movie. Willis doesn’t seem to be overly interested in being there, but when was the last time Bruce Willis didn’t look bored in a movie? McAvoy does more great stuff as the many personalities of the Horde, but he’s not the main focus of this movie. There are some weird moments in the plot that don’t make a lot of sense and are never really explained, though they can be somewhat overlooked given the superhero genre. But the problem here is too many of these characters have stuff to do, and it takes away from whatever Shyamalan might be trying to do with the more interesting characters. Split worked because the basic plot was simple–crazy guy kidnaps some teenage girls and one of them has some experience with surviving stuff like this–anchored by strong performances from McAvoy and Taylor-Joy, and Taylor-Joy doesn’t have much to do here. Likewise, Unbreakable was a simple story–David Dunn may be indestructible, so what should he do with that if its true? Glass doesn’t have that sort of structure and tries to tell something a bit more complicated that acts as a sequel to two very different movies while trying to advance the plot lines of both. And that’s not even getting into what Paulson’s Ellie Staple is up to here as it seems to belong in yet another movie by itself.
However, the movie does come to life when Jackson starts talking. Giving a much more quiet performance than the actor is often known for, when Mr. Glass starts monologuing about superheroes and what they can and should be, there’s a real passion there. There’s a good reason this movie is called Glass. It really is Jackson’s movie even if he has roughly equal screentime with McAvoy and Willis. Jackson himself may be something of a comic book geek, and this movie does act as something of a love letter to those sorts of people. When Elijah talks about superheroes being modern mythology, something to inspire people, Jackson sounds like he means it. You’ll have to wait a bit, but once Mr. Glass begins his plans, the movie snaps into focus and becomes what it should have been from the beginning. Mr. Glass isn’t superstrong or indestructible like Dunn or the Beast, but his mind shines and makes the movie what it is.
So, yeah, see it for Jackson. He makes it worth it whenever he’s onscreen. 7.5 out of 10 surprisingly significant potholes.