M. Night Shyamalan got me again — although this time the twist ending was probably unintentional. With Glass, his (hopefully) final entry in a pseudotrilogy spanning nearly two decades, the writer/director actually had me convinced that I could safely expect to enjoy one of his films. After the surprisingly effective grindhouse grittiness of 2017’s Split, I thought maybe, just maybe, Shyamalan had gotten back to basics and cast aside his bloated blockbuster pretensions. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as his utterly arbitrary attempts to tie together the half-dozen plot threads loosely connecting this film to his 2000 cult sleeper Unbreakableprove to be nothing more than an exercise in diminishing returns, squandering the promise ofSplit’s psychological suspense and subverting it with stolid superhero silliness. Joke’s on me, I guess.
The number of narrative missteps present in Glass would be staggering, were one not familiar with Shyamalan’s already dubious curriculum vitae. As the post-credits stinger from Split would suggest, Glass engineers the unnecessary confrontation between Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah “first name Mister” Glass, Bruce Willis’ David Dunn/The Overseer, and James McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Horde. These characters share a universe only because Shyamalan says so, and the slipshod construction of their tenuous ties are evident in every frame. This is a film in which its eponymous character sits motionless and without dialogue for the first hour of an egregiously long running time, if that gives you any insight into the consideration that went into this script. McAvoy’s performance(s) may well be just as impressive as was the case with Split, but hearing his digitally altered voice bemoan “My Horde is losing faith!” leaves little doubt that he was underserved by the material given. To go into detail about the third-act anticlimax and its perfunctory twist would risk spoilers (not that anyone should care), but it might suffice to say that this drawn-out melodrama miserably misses its mark.
So is Glass as bad as you’ve heard? I suppose that depends on your expectations. If you were hoping for something that measures up to the forward-thinking genre revisionism of Unbreakableor the shamelessly self-indulgent sleaze of Split, prepare for bitter disappointment. In trying to have it both ways, Shyamalan has produced a film that reads like little more than a desperate plea for work helming an unspecified comic book movie, despite the fact that this film establishes to a high degree of certainty that he lacks any substantive understanding of what makes those films such box office behemoths. The film name-drops every franchise imaginable regardless of publisher or rights holder, running the gamut from Archie to X-Men — credit for casting a wide net, at least. But as far as unsolicited auditions go, this one’s an unqualified failure.
To be fair, Shyamalan’s take on superheroic storytelling is undeniably unique, though not exactly in the laudable sense of the term. His film bears all the sensibilities of an 8-year-old playing with action figures in a sandbox, constructing pale simulacra of the comics that he ingests without a clear grasp of why they inspire him. While his directorial work is imbued with incomprehensible stylistic tics that contribute little to the aesthetic merits of the film — jarring fight sequences that seem to be aiming for Kent Wakeford’s pre-Steadicam work on Scorsese’s Mean Streets, but come off like little more than GoPro YouTube videos — and yet it’s his unfocused script that proves the greatest detriment to the overall impact of Glass. If the one true job of any superhero movie director is to tease out convoluted continuity and character arcs while still allowing neophytes a foothold to enjoy the story, Shyamalan has failed unequivocally. And if his ultimate aim was to set up a broader cinematic universe to explore, then we’ll have to consider any future efforts along those lines a distinctly glass-half-empty kind of proposition.