My last week was a sprint to get ready for Glass. To do that, I binged through the collected works of one M. Night Shyamalan, a director once tapped to be the next Spielberg. That, like saying a basketball player can be the next Jordan, remains an unfair label to put on any filmmaker. Yet for a minute, it appeared that Shyamalan could live up to the promise. Few directors were more skilled as visual storytellers, especially in his prime. Its odd to say now, but Shyamalan movies had something special going, especially when it came to cinematography. Perhaps no film was more visually unique than Unbreakable, especially in the ways he blocked out framing devices (such as doorways) to allude to comic book panels.
However, since The Village (shot by Roger Deakins) that skilled seemed to disappear from his repertoire. For more than a decade, he stumbled through films, often relying on his poorly constructed narratives and subpar dialogue. During this run, he never got an outstanding performance, and the material suffered when no one could elevate. Then, Split released in early 2017. James McAvoy excelled playing about eight characters. Anya Taylor-Joy and Hayley Lu Richardson also proved more than up for the task of handling the script. With three above-average performers (and apparently a role for Sterling K. Brown cut from the movie), it seemed like Shyamalan had finally righted the ship. A post-credit scene linked Split to Unbreakable, and suddenly Shyamalan had his own low-budget superhero franchise, created from whole cloth.
This brings us to Glass, a film that might be the single worst followup in Shyamalan’s career. Split may have made you believe in the director, but this one will surely destroy any faith you had in his comeback. At the best of times, Glass feels like Shyamalan wants to do an impression of his better films. At the worst, it indulges his substandard storytelling and egotistical belief that he alone understands the mechanics of these stories. Rather than just tell a straightforward story and let the pieces fall where they may, he tries to include new twists and turns in a franchise he’s already said he will not revisit. What a colossal waste of goodwill.
Glass picks up mere weeks after Split. The Horde (James McAvoy) has kidnapped four cheerleaders, and he is waiting for the Beast to reemerge. Meanwhile, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) are hunting down the Horde. The two run a successful security shop, but Joseph cautions David about the uptick in police awareness regarding David’s alter ego. When David comes into contact with The Horde’s Hedwig personality, he is able to find the young women. At that moment, the Beast arrives and the two meta-humans do battle. However, they are captured by the police and taken to a mental institution. There, they meet Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who wishes to cure them of their delusions. However, patient Elijah Prince, a.k.a. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), has other plans.
From the get-go, Glass wastes away two of the very best things it has going for it. First, McAvoy continues to give a fun performance, but it seems the rules have changed on how quickly he can alter his personalities. Rather than being a transformative process, he can do so instantaneously. For whatever reason, there are several instances throughout the film where a light system goes off every eight seconds or so, solely for the purpose of letting McAvoy explore some of the other personalities. The scripting of these scenes are dumb, but McAvoy does his best in a film that way below the standard of this last performance.
Meanwhile, every scene that Jackson can be his Glass persona brings energy to the film. He has fun in the role and hams it up in the best ways. After all, Glass believes himself to be a supervillain. Fitting into the stereotypes of Magneto and other larger than life villains, Jackson plays to the back seats in the best ways. It is glorious. Jackson and McAvoy get the best out of Willis, who seems entirely divorced from this film the moment he gets caught.
Therein lies the problem. For a movie that promises superheroes, you get almost no superhero action. Seriously. The first twenty minutes of the film are fun but poorly made. For whatever reason, every scene is dark beyond comprehension. There seems to be no reason for much of the shot composition, and instead, we jump between shortcuts. Part of what made both Unbreakable and Split shine was their ability to create a mood through their visual storytelling. Rather than marry the two moods, Shyamalan shoots it as plainly and dully as possible. The budget on the film was only $20 million. Frankly, the movie looks cheaper than that. It’s randomly dark for no reason, and color palette feels wasted. For a movie that could really have been vivid in its use of color, Shyamalan shot it as boring as possible.
Then, the narrative construct of the film puts our superheroes into an asylum, where they begin to doubt their actual powers. Why? Each character already had a whole movie with their characters coming to grips with the fact that they are extraordinary in some way. This is not news to them. For the characters to buy into the idea that they might be superpowered without years of evidence makes no sense. During these discussions with the characters, the movie puts Jackson in a vegetative state, lasting almost a full hour. That’s right, you don’t get a proper Mr. Glass until at least an hour into the movie. For a movie called Glass, that’s a huge disappointment.
As if to taunt the audience, Shyamalan also repurposes scenes from his previous, better, movies. A deleted scene from Unbreakable gets inserted to show Mr. Glass trying to ride a carnival ride as a child. There are scenes between Willis and his son from Unbreakable. Even some of the sequences from Split, including the bar bending scene, get inserted. Across the board, these are the best sequences in the film. Each reminds you of Shyamalan’s ability as a visual storyteller, and hammer home that this is not the Shyamalan of old.
Last but not least, this narrative is all over the place. There seems to be no purpose for anything these characters actually do. I certainly don’t care about the employees at the hospital, and yet they get a lot of screentime to walk through the scenes. Worst of all, the scenes are actively boring. You can cut about 30 minutes of the movie outright, and nothing would have changed. If there was a purpose, and potentially an exciting sequence to close out the film, the movie then kneecaps the audience. The last twenty or so minutes of the film are actively bad, throwing out twist after twist to add complexity. It doesn’t work. Unbreakable never worked because of the twist. It worked because it was an emotional tale of a man trying to save his marriage. Apparently, Shyamalan no longer believes he can tell a story just for the sake of telling one. This might have destroyed the extreme promise the director once had.
Overall, Glass is a bloated, boring, and poorly written sequel to both Unbreakable and Split. Rather than build off those two films, Shyamalan embraced his belief that he is a master storyteller. Yet his inability to write anything beyond trite dialogue left his characters in the most absurdly boring positions. The charisma of Jackson, McAvoy, and the weirdly underused Willis, can’t save this film. Now, Shyamalan burned his bridge to a unique world of grounded, original superheroes. What he does next, I can’t say, but there’s almost nothing that will make me excited for his next film after this disastrous film.