M. Night Shyamalan is back at it again: Glass is a frustrating disappointment. It is the unexpected third film in a trilogy that began with Unbreakable, which was released almost 20 years ago, which was also the follow-up to his breakout hit The Sixth Sense. It’s really an achievement to have made this film boring, especially after the success of the second film in the trilogy, Split. Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, the reluctant vigilante hero, versus the villainous mastermind Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) with an untamable rage.
The idea of comic book characters being real is a common trope, but M. Night Shyamalan seems to have forgotten that Unbreakable has already tackled the concept, and that the third film doesn’t need to spend time with exposition on comic books as a concept or the tropes we’ve seen in literally any other superhero film that’s come out in the 19 years since Unbreakable‘s release. Maybe that movie was a milestone in the development of the genre into what it is now, and helped make space for darker comic book-inspired films. Regardless of intention, Glass takes an okay idea that hinges on a long anticlimax.
The film follows the lives of Dunn, Glass, and Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy reprising his role from Split) in a psychiatric prison, and the doctor in charge of interrogating their self-perceptions (Sarah Paulson). The doctor specializes in working with people who have delusions of grandeur, specifically superhero complexes, and she is uncompromising in her methods. She is just as much a villain to the trio as they are to her.
Instead of being an intense psychological game as it sets out to do, Glass is a coloring book that doesn’t seem to believe its audience has the intelligence to grasp its concept without adult supervision. There is little dramatic tension when the three main characters are talking about the childhood trauma they’ve already talked about (and we were shown), in not one but two other movies. Shyamalan literally took scenes from his old films and pasted them into this one. It’s not a callback in this context; instead, it’s more like cheating in the margins on an essay to make it fit the page requirement.
It’s not that Shyamalan doesn’t understand the language of cinema, because the parts that do work are fun, including the designated character colors. He just makes different choices than traditional films would, but when they don’t work, it’s not disorienting so much as it is tedious. It takes a good 40 minutes before the titular character gets anything to do, and when he does, everything picks up. There are points in the film in which Mr. Glass may as well break the fourth wall because maybe then the number of close-up shots and use first person perspective would be more effective with the dialogue.
Also, Shyamalan seems to have not learned from the criticism he received for Split’s interpretation of dissociative identity disorder, and doubles down. Crumb has 23 different personalities and cycles through them effectively enough, but it doesn’t change the problems addressed by critics of Split. Mr. Glass is a super-genius whose physical impairment is the only thing stopping him from being treated the same way as any person who hasn’t had over 90 broken bones. Together, they are a seemingly unstoppable team who straddle between Magneto and Eric Killmonger in their conviction to make society pay. There is quite a lot to unpack here from a psychological perspective, without revealing important elements of the story.
Glass is definitely a passion project, and is probably not unsalvageable for fans. I’m sure that there are plenty of other fans who will enjoy it, but as someone who loves Unbreakable, it wasn’t good enough.