Published Jan 17, 2019Glass is one fractured movie.
Bad puns aside, Glass is often frustrating, in that all the pieces of a good film are here: decent pacing (aside from a clunky middle act), good performances and an inventive and fully realized mythology. But by virtue of being a followup to two films that have very little to do with each other, Glass struggles the most when it tries to be an effective finale to a trilogy we never realized was one. Glass is a good sequel to 1999's Unbreakable, and a good sequel to 2016's Split. When it tries to tie both films together, the cracks start to show.
Nineteen years after the events of Unbreakable, and three after the events of Split, Glass picks up with Dissociative Identity Disordered Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) still on the loose after giving in to his homicidal 24th personality, "The Beast." Meanwhile, David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the indestructible hero of Unbreakable, runs a home security business with his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) by day and beats up troublemakers as a raincoat-clad vigilante nicknamed "The Overseer" by night. David is on the lookout for Kevin, who has kidnapped more young women for the Beast to feed on after murdering the classmates of teenager Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and setting Casey herself free.
But it isn't long before David and Kevin are arrested in a dual set-up and eventually placed in an institution under the care of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). Dr. Staple's specialty is treating patients with delusions of grandeur that have convinced themselves they are superheroes — and she already has a heavily-medicated Elijah Price, aka "Mr. Glass" (Samuel L. Jackson), the villainous mastermind of Unbreakable, under her thumb.
McAvoy doesn't get as many opportunities to be as mesmerizing as he was in Split, but it's still fascinating to watch him effortlessly swap back and forth between personalities with a gesture or a vocal shift, which he does so with rapid intensity as a result of a movement-operated strobe light that forces him to constantly wrestle with the various personas, both good and evil, that struggle for control.
Jackson, once his character begins to take prominence in the third act, radiates a calm, confident delusion, even if the references he makes to comics-as-history are often a little goofy.
It's Willis who seems like the weakest link - not because his performance isn't strong, but because he doesn't have much to do. But if Glass is a story about how villains are made, Unbreakable is a story about how heroes are, and perhaps it's best to let Willis have that film — and his quietly haunting performance in it — as his standout achievement in this "trilogy."
It's impossible to use the term "trilogy" any way but loosely. Glass struggles to balance all the bits and pieces of Unbreakable and Split, as these are two very different movies about two very different characters, despite sharing a "cinematic universe" that didn't reveal itself until the last five minutes of Split. The moral centres of each story — Joseph in Unbreakable and Casey in Split — are so tied to these films that when their stories intersect in Glass, it feels more like a crossover than a true, cumulative sequel. When Casey and Kevin, or Joseph and David, interact, it's a satisfying extension of each individual film, but smashing them together is inelegant and awkward, especially in the second act.
These disconnected scenes are interspersed with Dr. Staple's slow, methodical method of convincing three men that their powers are imaginary — and to her credit, Paulson is predictably good, radiating the assured serenity of a scientist who assumes her answers are always the correct ones. It's a postmodern, meta way of approaching superheroics: the clash between comic books as important historical artefacts versus the opposite viewpoint — that they are fodder for the lonely and delusional. Shyamalan might still be a clumsy writer at times, but no one can accuse him of coming up with a dull concept.
The last act picks up the pace for a finale that's brisk, action-packed, and fun in a corny-but-self-aware way. There are a couple of twists, some that land better than others, but none as absurdly stupid as the ones that made Shyamalan a punch line in the early aughts. As a director and a writer, he seems to have finally understood that less is sometimes more. Most of the action in Glass is confined to a single location, as good and evil quite literally wrestle for control, and it makes for some striking set pieces and uniquely choreographed fight scenes that often cut back and forth between first-person POVs instead to emphasize the very human nature of this superhuman story.
Yet Glass still suffers from trying to tie together too many threads into a satisfying conclusion. It's not broken, but it's definitely fractured.