Glass was supposed to be a triumphant return to form for director M. Night Shyamalan. His story is well known even for those who don’t live and breathe movies. His debut film The Sixth Sense took the world by storm earning six Academy Award nominations and went viral in an era where “smartphones” were the ones that could play Snake. His subsequent films (Unbreakable, Signs, The Village) were met with intense hype and mixed critical and box office success. Once the bottom fell out with 2006’s The Lady in the Water, it seemed as though Shyamalan would be remembered for having a formulaic approach that wowed audiences initially but quickly wore thin. His bag of tricks appeared empty and his films crumpled under the weight of insurmountable expectations and veered into punchline territory. But with 2016’s surprise hit Split, Shyamalan had gambled. By secretly making the film a direct sequel to his underrated 2000 film Unbreakable, he was all but assured that if Split was successful, it would present him an opportunity for redemption in the form of a final film in the trilogy — Glass.
Shyamalan’s visual style is present in Glass, but it’s not used to the same potent effect as his best films. The film is totally devoid of tension which is odd coming from a director that could craft scenes of almost unbearable tension. Moments which felt like you were holding a hand grenade of suspense and terror that’s pin had been pulled 20 seconds ago. These moments are confusingly replaced with exposition after exposition. Shyamalan is at his most successful when he lets the audience fill in the gaps. Story elements are presented on the screen with purposeful shots and thick, terse dialog. Like pieces of a puzzle that have been carefully crafted, but are being handed to you one at a time until at the last minute you see how they all come together. But, in Glass, Shyamalan feels compelled to make his characters describe the puzzle to you in great detail. And before you can even process what you’ve seen and how it may go together, a character is describing exactly why that piece was created and what it’s purpose means in the context of everything else including its meaning to the audience. This is the third movie in a trilogy about real-world comic book heroes. The audience doesn’t need to be reminded every 5 minutes of that fact and then told exactly why and how the film is subverting the genre. This wouldn’t have been necessary PRE-Marvel cinematic universe, but it’s undoubtedly not needed now.
Glass brings together the main characters from the previous two movies with promises of an epic conclusion to the real-world comic book tale. Samuel L. Jackson is the evil mastermind Mr. Glass, James McAvoy is the split-personality weapon of destruction known as The Horde, and Bruce Willis returns as the poncho-clad superhero David Dunn. Of the three, only McAvoy is given the opportunity to make something of his character. And while he appears to be loving every second of the role, McAvoy’s character — and the film as a whole — could have benefitted from more screen time for Jackson and Williams. Though Dunn and Glass are familiar characters to the franchise, they are afterthoughts when it comes to development despite the fact that they are deeper characters than the superficially multi-faceted Horde. McAvoy’s screen time is peppered with constant intra-scene switches between personalities which is a true acting feat but becomes grating as the movie rolls on. Had more screen time been devoted to Willis’ and Jackson’s characters, McAvoy’s character would have been more focused in its potency and not reached the levels of annoyance that it did.
The main component of Shyamalan’s signature style — the twist ending — is one that he embraces again in Glass. But again, it is as though Shyamalan doesn’t understand what it was about his early films that made twists work. In his early films, the final reveal felt like something that was just outside of reach that you should have been able to grasp the whole time but didn’t. And once the ending was known, the audience would take a step back and see that the puzzle pieces had been laid out in front of them the whole time. With Glass, the ending is something that nobody sees coming. Even equipped with the knowledge of the ending, rewatching all three films in the franchise will not make you feel like you missed something just out of reach. Instead, it will feel like someone sucker punched you while you were staring at the puzzle pieces.
While Glass does not deserve to be placed next to other Shyamalan films like The Happening or After Earth, it is by no means a worthy conclusion to the world established in Unbreakable. It is an often dull, overly expository film that is aimed at telling you exactly what it is about and what it all means instead of letting you experience it for yourself. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed Shyamalan’s early work, Glass is a disappointing film. But worse, it is a missed chance at a return to form for one of the most entertaining directors of a generation.