Film Reviews

Glass: Sigh. The Bad Version of M. Night is Back

Like Split, but haven’t seen Unbreakable? Or vice versa? Then don’t see Glass. You’ll mostly be lost. However, even if you have seen and liked those prior movie maybe still don’t see Glass. It’s gonna make you want to say this:

“Oh, M. Night, you’ve done it again!”

That doesn’t have to mean something bad. Right? If I start off by declaring good ole M. Night Shyamalan has done it again I could simply mean he’s successfully rediscovered the magic of Unbreakable’s “what if superheroes were real and grounded?” storytelling and somehow merged it with the clever thrills and character dynamics of Split to create a satisfying conclusion to this most unlikely of film trilogies.

Yeaaaahhhh…remember, this is M. Night we’re talking about. His name used to be synonymous with “the next big thing.” Now it’s more closely associated with “one-trick pony” or the following Robot Chicken meme:

That’s what happens when you build your brand around twist endings (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs) and never really find another gear, eventually annoying audiences (The Village) before simply making them openly laugh in your face (The Happening, aka, The One Where the Killer Turns out to Be the Trees). Shyamalan tried branching out (The Last Airbender, After Earth); it didn’t take.

Now, he’s taking a mortgage out on his house to help pay for smaller thrillers, and with The Visit and Split he managed to finally climb out of director’s jail. However, once bitten, twice shy.

Shyamalan’s admitted inability to know how to shoot compelling action scenes, a tendency toward overly ponderous pacing, wooden, expository dialogue, and struggles with telling the difference between a good twist ending and a bad one are just some of the weaknesses and regrettable tendencies he can slip back into at any moment. That, sadly, is what has happened here with the slow, muddled, overstuffed, and deeply disappointing Glass.

So, when I say of Glass that M. Night has done it again I don’t mean it as a compliment. No. I mean the bad version of M. Night is back, which, truly, is such a shame. Unbreakable and Split are easily two of his best films, and Split and Glass are two of his most ambitious:

He didn’t even tell Universal that Split, the movie they’d just funded, was part of the Unbreakable universe until shortly before its Fantastic Fest premiere. When they shot lawyers at him to explain he couldn’t actually do that since Unbreakable is a Disney property he was two steps ahead of them; he’d already cleared it with Disney, who agreed on the condition that they would share distribution of any Split sequel with Universal.

That still left several crucial steps: 1) Split had to become a hit on its own merits since it was sold with a marketing campaign which kept the Unbreakable connection a secret. 2) Even if Split did that and made enough money to warrant a sequel, Unbreakable stars Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis had to actually agree to come back for more than just a last-minute cameo. No, they would be equal co-stars to James McAvoy. Maybe they’d want more money. Maybe they’d demand to read a script first and then pass because they didn’t like it.

Luckily for Shyamalan, that didn’t happen. Jackson had been hounding Shyamalan to finally make his “motherfucking” Unbreakable sequels – it was always planned to be a trilogy – and didn’t hesitate to join Glass. Neither did Willis. In fact, Willis didn’t even read the script before signing up. Same goes for franchise newcomer Sarah Paulson, who reportedly adores Unbreakable and was so floored by Split she lobbied to be part of whatever movie they were doing next.

Here, Paulson plays Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychologist specializing in treating patients who believe they are superheroes. She doesn’t exactly have a heavy patient load, though. As far as we can tell in Glass, it’s just the three – Willis’ David Dunn (a superstrong home security salesman whose vigilante alter ego goes by The Overseer), McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb (a dissociative identity disorder-sufferer with 24 different personalities, one of them capable of amazing feats of strength), and Jackson’s Elijah Price (a Lex Luthor-level supergenius stuck in a wheelchair due to brittle bones).

They filmed in an abandoned asylum and swear they didn’t add a single drop of paint to this wonderfully bizarre room. 

She seeks to help conquer their delusions. Elijah, heavily sedated but still plotting away, seeks, as always, to convince the world superheroes exist. Dunn and Crumb, um, mostly just seek to fight each other again after their initial battle in the film’s 20-minute opening ends in a draw. “How is it that there’s someone out there who is just as strong as me?” they both seem to be wondering.

When all of this was laid out in the trailer, it certainly looked promising. In practice, however, it plays more like an especially bad version of one of those TV episodes where the main characters end up in a mental hospital and briefly believe everything on the show to that point was just in their head (See: Buffy, Smallville, Supernatural, The Magicians below). When done right, such a storyline can be interesting because it unsettles a character or characters, challenges them in an entirely new way, or at least changes things up for a week; when done wrong, it’s just annoying. More the latter than the former here, sadly.

The Magicians, like so many others, did it better than Glass.

The entire dramatic arc of this movie is built around Dr. Staple’s efforts to convince the main trio they are crazy and in no way superpowered, yet the script’s heart never feels fully committed to this idea. As a result, everyone on screen struggles to sell it, leaving us to simply wait impatiently for the inevitable showdown where, guess what, those super strong dudes we’ve already seen do super strong shit in prior movies face off to do, well, yet more super strong stuff again.

The larger effort, obviously, is to again try and deconstruct the superhero mythos ala Unbreakable. However, what seemed clever in 2000 just seems woefully behind the times now. Elijah, for example, rolling around in his Professor X wheelchair and calling out comic book tropes like a YouTube comment section just leaves you wanting to look at M. Night and ask, “You realize there have been like 100 superhero movies in the last 18 years, right? Jackson and McAvoy combined have been in over 15 of them. I think we’re all up on the tropes by now.”

While Shyamalan appears not to have updated his material as far as the superheroes are concerned, he at least continues to pull a masterful performance – performances, actually – out of McAvoy, who portrayed just under 10 of Kevin’s personalities in Split but ups the total to 20 in Glass. His scene partner from Split, Anya Taylor-Joy, is also back as Casey and their scenes together are easily among the most purely enjoyable, but they also add to the clutter.

Like most superhero team-up movies, there are a lot of characters and storylines to juggle, and Shyamalan doesn’t always keep the trains running smoothly, awkwardly jumping from Casey and Kevin to David and his son to Elijah and his mom. When all of these side characters just randomly show up at the hospital for the finale, you’re left wondering if there was a scene we missed, an apt feeling for the entire film, really.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Me in 2017: Split is secretly a super villain’s origin story and now Bruce Willis has to stop him? That sounds awesome!

Me in 2019: Yeah, maybe they should have just made a straight Split sequel instead. All that Unbreakable stuff mostly gets in James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy’s way.

RANDOM PARTING THOUGHT

Because this a Blumhouse release through Universal and because it’s a direct sequel to Split, there is clearly some desire to at least nod toward the horror side of things with an unsettling, moody West Dylan Thordson score, but it more gets in the way than helps.

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22 comments

    1. I think the “audience vs. critics” divide with Glass is shortening. It’s now projected to come in around $10-$20m lower over the 4-day holiday than expected. It’s still going to be among the highest-grossing MLK Day weekend releases of all time, meaning plenty of fans like it fine enough and/or are undeterred by poor reviews. However, the lower-than-expected opening suggests bad word of mouth is spreading fast.

      Agreed about M. Night always reverting back to his norm, which is, basically, perpetual disappointment.

    1. You and i are probably two of the five people that actually liked The Illage. I don’t have a problem with it either and was considering writing something similar for my blog.

      1. The Village likely looks better now than it did at the time. I just remember that when it was released everyone suddenly decided they were finally sick to death of M. Night’s twist endings. It was the only thing you really went to his movies for, and each new movie seemed to deliver a less satisfying twist than the last. The Village, I recall, lots of people saying, “That ending was kind of stupid” or “It’s actually pretty good until the ending.” The Happening is where it turned into “OMG, that ending was the worst ever, but it’s not like the movie is any good before that!”

      2. Okay, my liking The Village may have something to do with not going into it expecting a twist, or seeing the t”twist” before it was revealed. I figured out what was going on about halfway through The Village, (but then I study things like language and wardrobe and caught the anachronisms early, so I was not surprised when the ending came.)

      3. Devil wasnt bad either. That lady in the water was a load of hogwash and airbender just shouldn’t have been made.

      4. Devil’s a weird one because it’s not totally an M. Night movie. He came up with the story and produced it, but somebody else wrote it and yet another somebody else directed it. However, it still feels a bit like it’s his movie.

        Last Airbender, agreed. In Total Film’s Glass cover story from two months ago, M. Night – and this is the source I used in the review – admitted he’s not good at directing action, basically that he wouldn’t even know where to start if forced to stage a traditional climactic action sequence. Huge reason why Last Airbender and After Earth are so terrible. It’s him trying to be something he’s not, kind of like when Kevin Smith briefly tried to be an assembly line, studio director with a vanilla project like Cop Out.

      5. After Earth pretty much ruined him in Hollywood. That’s why he had to self-finance The Visit and Split with distribution handled by Blumhouse and Universal. He did it again with Glass, although this time it was by choice, not necessity. Disney and Universal offered to pay for most of it which would have resulted in a bigger budget, but he just keeps mortgaging his Philadelphia estate, refusing to take a salary, and only making money if the movies are successful.

        That’s how hard After Earth bombed. It drove him to do all of that just to make any more movies.

      6. I liked the visit. Like most of his films could only watch it once because of twist and slowness which i agree is dated now. But watching a film once and likong it os all that matters. The visit was nice and simple. That is what he is good at. Unbreakable is dated now hence why it shouldnt interfere with split. I actually yhink the cameo at the end of split cheapened the movie belittling it to a unbreakable movie when it is good on its own merit.

      7. My mom loves Devil. I got too scared to finish it. Movies about elevators freak me out. (I got issues!) I was very, very disappointed in Airbender, especially since I was a fan of the anime, and expected a lot when I walked into that. Its Lady in the Water that I feel shouldn’t have been made, and while The Happening started off good, and had some effective moments, the ending was so awful I just laughed at the whole thing.

        M has a kinda hit or miss thing going on, but I still dont understand most people’s over the top hatred of him, though.

  1. Not sure if he has done it again or if the audience has woken up again.

    Do you know how many of his movies I actually like? Exactly one, The Sixth sense, and what I like about it is mostly the twist itself. It is not a movie which can still be a satisfying, meaningful watch when you see it the third time, like it is the case with Shawshank’s redemption.

    A twist just isn’t enough to make a movie interesting. And in a way The Sixth Sense frustrates me, because I think it could have been an outstanding movie in the hands of a truly good director, but it ended up being only a good one – and that is partly because the casting found a great child actor.

    I thought that Unbreakable is boring. It’s biggest problem is that I couldn’t care less about the main character. I still haven’t seen Split, but based on how people talk about it, it is all about the “surprise” in the end. I don’t intend to see Glass anytime soon either.

    So…nope, not surprised about the reaction now. I am mostly wondering how long it takes for the audience to finally accept that this is as good as it gets and how long it will take for Hollywood to finally bet on other directors.

    1. Unbreakable is too slow. Agreed. That came out in my video store clerk days, and I remember arguing with customers who loved it, joking, “Come on, the movie devotes like 20 minutes to whether or not Bruce Willis has ever had a cold! Pick up the pace, Shyamalan”

      Yeah…I was that kind of clerk.

      Anyway, also agreed about The Sixth Sense not benefiting quite as much from repeat viewings as other films like it.

      I will defend Split, however. The thing with Split, really, is now it is entirely defined by its association to Unbreakable, but you have to remember the Bruce Willis cameo is basically a mid-credits stinger. It’s not like the first Iron Man has to be judged according to the Avengers movies just because Nick Fury shows up in the post-credits. No, Iron Man is its own movie, and the same is true of Split. In fact, it’s easily one of M. Night’s most complete efforts, a best-case example of him accentuating what he does best and minimizing his worst tendencies. The Unbreakable thing is just a “Oh, that’s kind of cool” throw-in at the end of a pretty darn solid thriller-horror movie.

      1. But what you just said about Unbreakable is telling…not whatever the name of the main character in Unbreakable is, Bruce Willis. Which means that his character wasn’t memorable enough to remember his name. That’s always a bad sign.

  2. Happy new year KK. This is most dissapointing to read as I did truly enjoy both movies especially the unexpected link at the end of split. Is the problem that the two films were made a crossover ala batman vs superman and would M have faired better had he just produced two separate sequels. Flr me Split has no baring on Unbreakable. That film is years old and the villain Glass is an Unbreakable villain. There was no dependency on any characters in Split to warrant a crossover and the tones were ver different in either film so as much as the ending of split sounded exciting i couldn’t see it personally working. I just wander if the crossover is the failing. Would glass be a better sequel if just for unbreakable and split 2 been a separate film derrived from this script?

    1. Hit the nail on the head. The real problem here is that the tones just don’t mesh. He is trying to mix the horror and thrills of Split with the slow-moving meta superhero narrative of Unbreakable and it just feels awkward. McAvoy and Taylor-Joy never really feel like they totally belong with the other characters.

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