'Glass' film review: Cracks form in the 'Unbreakable' trilogy finale
Nearly twenty years ago, M. Night Shyamalan crafted one of the great superhero films of all time: "Unbreakable." After the shocking reveal that the horror thriller "Split" was the surprise "Unbreakable" sequel fans clamored for - making the third and final part of M. Night's long promised superhero trilogy an inevitability. While it never quite matches the heroic highs or chilling terror of its predecessors, "Glass" (opening in theaters nationwide Jan. 18) is a fine if flawed conclusion to a trilogy rooted in belief.
In short: While the mysterious vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis, "Unbreakable") tracks the serial killing kidnapper the Horde (James McAvoy, "Split"), psychiatrist Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) works to capture both - to imprison them alongside the terrorist Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard also star.
"Glass" is a victim of the extraordinary expectations set by "Unbreakable" and excitement ignited by "Split." This set it up to some degree of failure as this surprise sequel now had to live up to the pent-up excitement of a beloved M. Night film. The knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss "Glass" as underwhelming - but this claim is made mostly in the context of the preceding two films. Is "Glass" as well-crafted as either "Unbreakable" or "Split" - no, it's not. That doesn't mean, however, that "Glass" is an abject failure.
The stinger at the end of "Split" was electrifying. The Horde was a pure monster - and the possibility of the nigh invulnerable David Dunn taking on The Horde was instantly tantalizing. And "Glass" jumps right into the main event, while also resetting David Dunn's character and following-up where The Horde left off after "Split." Much of the first act pays off that stinger: a means to bring Dunn up against The Horde.
The titular character himself doesn't do a lot during much of the first act. The little screen time afforded Mr. Glass has him practically catatonic and very passive for much of the film's first section. But rest assured, once Mr. Glass comes to, he takes control of the film. And once Mr. Glass takes control of the film, the movie starts to make much more sense thematically and narratively.
"Glass" is essentially forces the characters to question their own being and place in the world - specifically: whether they are superpowered beings at all. The world of "Unbreakable" has no known superheroes at all and "Split" follows a villain who believes he is humanity's next evolution. The entire dramatic arc of "Unbreakable" is Dunn's emergence and confidence as a reluctant superhero - whereas "Split" slowly reveals the birth of a monster.
The problem here is - this movie's entire first act is a titanic battle between two clearly and obviously super-powered beings. And "Glass" itself doesn't inject enough reasonable skepticism to force the character's to legitimately question their abilities. By late into the second act of "Glass," the audience has already watched two full movies following metahumans accomplishing incredible feats -- then "Glass" tries to explain these acts away with a single, lazy exposition-laden scene. "Glass" just doesn't inject enough existential uncertainty into its characters. The disappointment of "Glass" isn't that it somehow failed the trilogy - it fails to credibly execute its own thesis.
McAvoy is once again incredible as The Horde. He puts on a one-man acting class as he shifts from one distinct personality to the next to another and so on - often in long, unbroken, single-take scenes. Watching him seamlessly morph between personalities on screen is amazing. Once Mr. Glass breaks his catatonic, thousand yard stare, then Jackson is able to grasp control of the film and its direction. Despite his place between a hero and a monster, it's the wheelchair-bound Mr. Glass that always seems in control of the situation. Paulson's character match the intensity or intellect of Mr. Glass - in fact her agenda is vague (not mysterious) and the stakes are equally nebulous. And after a fun first act, David Dunn is pushed to the background and is barely a character in this story.
To the film's credit, "Glass" doesn't have much fat to trim - the story chugs along at a nice clip, even during its slower ebbs (when it's not clear where the story is going). One of the film's strengths is how well it combines the casts of two very different films to tell one cohesive story. The film’s momentum keeps the story intriguing - even when the film gets lazy with its themes. In a vacuum, "Glass" is more akin to a psychological drama than a pure superhero flick - although it flirts with the latter. This could explain why some viewers might be underwhelmed by this third and final entry into the "Unbreakable" franchise.
Final verdict: Not living up to the expectations set by "Unbreakable" isn't this sequel's worst crime - only half-heartedly and somewhat lazily committing to its major themes is this movie's greatest fault.
"Glass" opens in theaters nationwide Jan. 18. This dramatic thriller has a running time of 129 minutes is rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language.