Glass - Review
The good will of The Visit and Split has been spent.
Up the hill backwards, M. Night Shyamalan has fought hard for his re-consideration as a serious director. The blights of Devil and The Happening were easy to forget: simple missteps, but it was the avalanche of hatred that came with his Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptation that many believed to be the surprise final nail in the coffin. Simplicity and tension faded for a bland, soulless action film that was almost universally panned, for many good reasons. I wonder why, after all this, I still expected Glass to be anything other than a repeat of the Last Airbender. It’s a big action film that revives a beloved property (this time the director’s own), and hedges its bet on the question, Can he do it? No, he cannot, and every moment of Glass serves as a reminder that Shyamalan should keep his sights low.
We can’t say he didn’t try. Glass is easily M. Night Shyamalan’s greatest attempt at a blockbuster, and it should have been a victory lap. The Visit earned him good will from fans like myself who longed for the grounded, small scale stories of Signs and The Sixth Sense, and then he wowed the masses with a creative breakthrough in Split. The latter showed Shyamalan peeking back into the world of mainstream success. Toting a bigger star and an expandable universe, it didn’t necessarily make a good movie, but an acceptable one from a director on the uptick. Glass functions as a sequel to Split and Unbreakable, the oft-forgotten 2000 superhero origin classic from Shyamalan’s most productive period. The same fundamentals that gave The Sixth Sense its emotional punch were refined in Unbreakable, and though it’s not his finest film, it is beloved. Glass’s first offense is that it makes Unbreakable irrelevant.
We get exactly one scene of Bruce Willis as David Dunn, kicking ass in the dark with his signature poncho, and that’s it. Glass doesn’t attempt to further the Unbreakable story, but invents a new one that is far less interesting (a very Lynchian thing to do). Not to say that Unbreakable set up a very interesting world, it didn’t, but Glass could have been the film to flesh it out. Instead, David Dunn is jailed almost immediately, after a semi-exciting fight with James McAvoy’s Beast (plus the other 21 personalities), leaving it up to his son to break him out. This hurts to say, but Spencer Treat Clark’s performance is bad. Wahlburg levels of bad. He’s given minimal screen time, but when he shows up, there’s no avoiding him. Samuel L. Jackson does his best with a limited role, and Bruce Willis is criminally sidelined. Glass struggles with keeping its leading heroes consistent, but James McAvoy brings enough talent for everybody. His many characters have been ironed out in the space between Split, and he lights up the screen.
I won’t even get into the story of Glass. It’s convoluted, and includes a shadow government led by Sarah Paulson, and at the end (SPOILER ALERT), everyone dies. Everyone. All three main characters, each some of the most interesting creations of Shyamalan’s storied career, are reduced to ash before the credits roll. If he wanted to end the story here, fine, but it could not have been in a less exciting way. It’s the airport fight scene from Civil War times two; somehow matching an anticipated fight scene with the blandest possible location and scenario. After a certain point in the story, it feels like Shyamalan gave up and started letting a machine write the script. The final twist is so pointless, so meaningless, it inspired groans in the theater.
Glass is more of a sequel to Split than it is to Unbreakable, and that turns out to be a very good thing. But Shyamalan continues to dangle the film we want in front of us, just to pull it away and present something much worse. It isn’t the failure of Avatar, but Glass will require an equal amount of redemption for Shyamalan to return to grace.