“In a twist that would disappoint Mr. Glass more than anything in the world, Glass settles for being barely ordinary, when it could have been something extraordinary.”
The reviews are in and critics, like Mashable’s own Angie Han, agree across the board: Glass should have been a dramatic, spellbinding finale for longtime fans, but instead, director M. Night Shyamalan has delivered an underwhelming squelch of a conclusion not worth the price of admission.
Starring Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, and Samuel L. Jackson, Glass completes Shyamalan’s Eastrail 177 superhero thriller trilogy. Preceded by Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016), Glass follows the escalating superhuman abilities of three men recently placed under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple, played by Sarah Paulson.
Before hitting theaters on Jan. 18, check out critics takes on Glass below.
Glass‘s premise overstays its welcome and undermines its main story
Shyamalan’s heroes are grounded in a tangible reality to a degree that makes their crises of faith particularly potent, but the longer the attempted rehabilitation stretches out, the less interesting and more inert it becomes. No matter how you think it’ll shake out — that they’ll be cured of their superheroic delusions or transcend the boundaries that have been set upon them — that question alone isn’t enough to sustain such a large chunk of a film that has so many other avenues it could explore. The idea of a definitive answer also starts to undermine the “real” trappings of Unbreakable and Split, especially the former’s sense of ambiguity; being able to climb walls or bend steel loses meaning when it’s made the rule rather than the exception.
The other problem is that Shyamalan’s premise disarms his greatest strength. Shyamalan has always thrived on the power of the unseen, and his best films are so enduringly tense because of how they exploit inference and off-screen space; think of the pantry scene in “Signs,” and the general pall of fear that settles over “The Village.” Think of how both movies lose their luster as soon as the truth is put on full display. With “Glass,” the issue isn’t that there’s nothing to see, but rather that there’s nothing to hide. McAvoy is climbing on the walls in the first 20 minutes, and the Wizard of Oz is staring you straight in the face. Shyamalan never corners himself into his old compositional brilliance — he never uses the darkness to make us desperate for the light.
James McAvoy’s talents shine despite dull surrounding narrative
Throughout this, the character given the most screen time is the Horde. In fact, the second act of Glass is primarily a showcase for McAvoy’s acting abilities. (Which, to be honest, are pretty extraordinary, considering we meet even more of Kevin’s many personalities this time around.) But as he’s going through those impressive transformations and motions, the film doesn’t go through many of its own. Any tension or suspense built out of the first act is almost totally removed and we’re left with an exposition-heavy story that’s spinning its wheels waiting for the real plot to kick in, or at least another action set piece.
Speaking of shattering: This is not Mr. Glass’s movie, despite what the title and billing might tell you. The title Split 2 wouldn’t make for as flashy a Blu-ray collection box, but this movie belongs to McAvoy. One of the most impressive aspects of the script is the way it gives entire character arcs to several of the personalities that dwell inside Kevin Crumb’s head, and McAvoy plays them out fully across his face and body. Shyamalan loves a good, striking close-up on an actor’s face, which gives the audience prime opportunity here to watch McAvoy cycle through personalities in a single take. I suggest paying attention to the actor’s eyes; it’s astounding to note the ways they change with each alt. They exude innocence when the 9-year-old Hedwig is in control, grow primal when The Beast is unleashed, sharpen when Ms. Patricia takes the floor.
For fans, it is undeniably thrilling to see Unbreakable and Split meet
As a fan of both earlier movies (although I prefer the intellectual rug-pulling of Unbreakable to the grim, captivity-themed Split), seeing these three characters first assembled in the same room is thrilling. But Shyamalan doesn’t seem to know what to do with his dense mythology once he’s convened his long-awaited superhero loony-bin summit meeting. Instead of having his two earlier movies dovetail to create something deeper and richer, it quickly begins to feel like subtraction by addition.
Glass collides with the classic pitfalls of most sequels
It’s good to see Shyamalan back (to a degree) in form, to the extent that he’s recovered his basic mojo as a yarn spinner. But “Glass” occupies us without haunting us; it’s more busy than it is stirring or exciting. Maybe that’s because revisiting this material feels a touch opportunistic, and maybe it’s because the deluge of comic-book movies that now threatens to engulf us on a daily basis has leeched what’s left of the mystery out of comics. In “Unbreakable,” Elijah said, “I believe comics are a form of history that someone, somewhere felt or experienced.” He still believes that, but today’s comic-book culture looks more like a dream broadcast from corporate central. What it no longer feels connected to, even in “Glass,” is experience.
Glass is a major step down from Unbreakable, which remains one of Shyamalan’s best-conceived films visually, structurally, and thematically. The way Unbreakable is shot — mostly in long, ahem, unbroken takes — underscores the things it is about. It’s also moody and ominous and simultaneously uplifting and depressing. Looking at it in 2019, it’s obvious what critics saw in the young Shyamalan, and why he was compared to filmmakers like Spielberg and Hitchcock. The guy who made Unbreakable warranted those comparisons.
So where is that guy in Glass? Shyamalan throws in a few long takes and one or two bold camera angles. Otherwise, Glass is perfunctorily shot — and the flashbacks to the events of Unbreakable (using footage from that film) only serve to remind viewers how interesting it was to look at, and how this one is mostly just … there.
The film’s finale is open-ended, if not outright confusing
The tension between wish-fulfillment heroics and realism was tantalizing in Unbreakable. Here, it’s more confused. Those of us who have steered clear of gossip sites or promotional interviews may find ourselves, after the big showdown Mr. Glass has engineered, not certain what we have seen. Is Glass the least satisfying chapter of an often enjoyable, conceptually intriguing trilogy? Or is it an attempt to launch a broader Shyamalaniverse, in which ordinary men and women throughout Philadelphia and its suburbs will discover their own inspiring abilities? Marketplace realities make the latter more likely. Here’s hoping the former is the case.