Even in the climax of his superhero movie trilogy, which took him nearly two decades to complete, M. Night Shyamalan had to add one last twist. The director, who is divisive among critics and audiences alike, has made shock revelations in the final minutes of his movies his signature ever since his 1999 breakout hit The Sixth Sense. Shyamalan and surprise endings are like peanut butter and jelly or Oreos and milk. The twists tend to fall into three general categories. There are the effective ones that also have the benefit of being bolstered by characters and a story that make repeated viewings a rewarding experience. The best example of that is the revelation at the end of Sixth Sense. Then there are the ones that just sort of sputter out, like the climax of Signs. Finally, there are the ones that not only disappoint after the initial viewing but collapse completely when you apply any scrutiny at all. The ludicrous ending to The Village fits here.
Having only seen Glass once, I’ll classify its surprise ending as a mix of the first and last categories, although it will probably hold up fairly well on repeat viewings. Without spoiling it for anyone, the most confounding thing about Shyamalan’s signature twist here is why he needed to include it at all. While not without its problems, Glass is a mostly satisfying conclusion to what’s been dubbed the Eastrail 177 Trilogy, which began with 2000’s Unbreakable and includes 2017’s Split. Again, without spoiling anything, Shyamalan’s comic book superhero series includes something that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s harshest critics lament it for lacking: dramatic stakes that arise out of actions having consequences. What the main characters of Shyamalan’s series face by the film’s end gives it a real emotional weight.
The picture’s biggest flaw is its structure. As the culmination of a trilogy, Glass should feel more like the final act of a dramatic arc. Instead, most of the movie feels like starting over. That seems to be a function of Shyamalan’s personal style. Since almost every one of his movies builds to a moment near the end that is intended to surprise us, the director puts a great deal of care into setting the stage for the final twist. He follows that formula here in Glass, when Unbreakable and Split should have been all the setup he needed.
The bulk of the plot concerns David Dunn, Kevin Wendell Crumb, and Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price all being held in a psychiatric facility. Dunn is the superhuman hero to Mr. Glass’ diabolical villain; the two men discovered their true identities in Unbreakable. Kevin Wendell Crumb’s identities (plural) are introduced in Split. Crumb’s 23 different personalities are the result of dissociative identity disorder. Collectively, they are known as The Horde, but Crumb’s most terrifying attribute is a 24th personality that some of the others worship: a creature with superhuman strength known as The Beast. Dr. Ellie Staple wants to help these men realize they don’t have the capabilities they think they do. She is a psychiatrist who specializes in delusions of grandeur and treating patients who believe they are superheroes.
The Dr. Staple character offers a clever commentary on our pop culture landscape, which is dominated by comic book cinematic universes and franchises. It could have been cleverer if Shyamalan had developed the critique more. As it is, he’s content to introduce the idea of our obsession with superheroes leading to some of us believing we are superheroes, but he doesn’t go any further. He really can’t since, if you’ve seen Unbreakable or Split, we know these men are who they believe themselves to be.
That missed opportunity for a deeper cultural exploration makes for a lot of surface-level meta elements in Glass. Shyamalan – who wrote all three films in the trilogy – delights in his characters discussing how their actions correlate with comic book tropes and storylines. His affinity for the art form is clear. While his meta-commentary throughout Glass, as well as the whole series, isn’t revelatory, it is entertaining. That goal – to entertain us – is Shyamalan’s real raison d'être. His storytelling shortcomings notwithstanding, he has always wanted to entertain us, and Glass is a mostly successful effort.
Much of that success has to do with the film’s talented cast. As in Split, James McAvoy carries a good deal of the action in Glass as Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Horde/The Beast. It’s easy to see that McAvoy is having a lot of fun with the role. His seamless transitioning between personalities as each one “takes the light” is an utter gas to watch. While CGI helps, what makes McAvoy’s transformation into The Beast genuinely terrifying is more about the actor’s facial expressions and mannerisms.
Crumb’s domination of the story leaves less for Bruce Willis’ David Dunn – which the film’s culture-at-large has dubbed The Overseer. As Dunn, Willis sustains his quiet demeanor from Unbreakable. There’s a mournful sadness to David Dunn and Willis employs his talents as an actor to relate that sadness, often with just a look.
The most frustrating thing about Glass is the fact that the character it’s named after is ignored for the first two-thirds of the movie. Samuel L. Jackson, like he’s done so many times, made Mr. Glass such a unique character in Unbreakable. Jackson’s look and performance are even more iconic in Glass, at least when Shyamalan bothers to focus his attention on the character. Mr. Glass does take center stage in the movie’s final act, as his behind-the-scenes machinations are brought to light, but it’s a bit too little, too late.
Shyamalan also fumbles his use of the series’ tertiary characters. Dunn’s son, Joseph, played by Spencer Treat Clark, and Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey Cooke – one of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s kidnap victims in Split – are introduced only to disappear for long stretches of the movie. We’re left to wonder why they needed to be included at all.
Still, seeing the three main characters interact together – there is a group therapy session in the hospital that features an inspired set design – is enough to make Glass worth the effort. Now that they only expand and never contract, watching a comic book movie franchise come to a finite close – no need to hang around for a mid- or post-credits sequence, there isn’t one – is a particularly satisfying experience.
Why it got 3 stars:
- Glass has its problems, but it’s entertaining enough to be enjoyable. The performances (especially from James McAvoy) make the movie a much better time than it otherwise would be. It’s a fitting end to Shyamalan’s trilogy.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- Glass, like EVERY M. Night Shyamalan movie, makes it necessary to duck and dodge around spoilers to avoid ruining the twist ending for people who haven’t seen it. The last few paragraphs of my review relate how refreshing it is to experience a comic book movie franchise with a finite close. The twist does open up the possibility for this universe to be explored in future movies. Shyamalan has said he’s open to doing as much. At the same time, there is a finality to this particular storyline, which is what I found so enjoyable.
- There are a few logic problems in the movie that are hard to explain away. Kevin Wendell Crumb is held in the psychiatric hospital by a network of strobe lights in his room that flash whenever he gets too close to the door. The lights work to trigger a different personality to come forward so he can never follow through with an escape plan. The first time it happened, I wondered why he didn’t just close his eyes so he could get to the door.
Close encounters with people in movie theaters:
- The advance screening audience I was with applauded at the end. Glass is a fun time, but it’s nowhere near that good.
Up Next at The Forgetful Film Critic:
- The Oscar nominees for the 2019 ceremony were announced this week, so it’s time for me to catch up with all the Best Picture nominees I haven’t seen/written about. This year there are only two I haven’t seen yet. First up, I’ll take a look at Vice, Adam McKay’s follow up to his hit 2015 film The Big Short. Vice is a biopic about possibly the most notorious VP this country has ever had: the one and only Dick Cheney. He shot a guy in the face, for Christ’s sake.