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M. Night Shyamalan has spent the last four years on a path of redemption. All of the potential he had once shown seemed to be totally gone following epic duds The Last Airbender and After Earth, but he started to get his groove back by going small scale and experimenting with found footage with the surprisingly fantastic The Visit. He followed that up with Split two years ago, which was not only intense and thrilling, but featured one of the best twists in recent memory by revealing a special connection to Unbreakable in its final moments.
The supervillain feature immediately inspired sequel talks, with fans clamoring for a feature that would unify Shyamalan's small-scale franchise, and now that's come together in the form of Glass. Sadly, now that it's done we are left in a position where in retrospect all of that audience outcry seems like it was a really bad idea. Because while Unbreakable and Split still function on their own and remain entirely watchable, the third chapter in the series is a real mess that is not just underwritten and unsatisfying, but also outrageously boring.
Set approximately two weeks after the events of Split (which, though too complex to get into here, presents its own set of stupid story problems), Glass picks up with David Dunn (Bruce Willis) 19 years after he survived a deadly train wreck and discovered his impressive immunity. By day he works with his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), at a start-up home security company, but he also regularly hits the street so that he can find criminals and partake in vigilante justice as The Overseer.
One particular felon David has set his sights on is Kevin Wendell Crumb a.k.a. The Horde (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder and a penchant for kidnapping young woman so that they may be sacrificed to one of his 24 identities: a feral, superhumanly strong personality known as The Beast. Unfortunately, David is apprehended in the process and sent to Ravel Hill Memorial Psychiatric Research, where Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) both suspects intense delusion, and reunites him with the evil genius Elijah Price a.k.a. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) -- who has spent the majority of the last two decades under heavy sedation.
If you were really hoping that this would be the film to open up the world and expand the superhero mythology within it, you should really leave all of those expectations at the door, as it's ridiculous how little the movie does in order to get that done. Part of the problem is that it's a victim of its own structure, which goes way heavier on the second act, and leaves both the first and third feeling severely underdeveloped. We get only an extremely limited sense of how David Dunn has used his powers to fight crime since the events of Unbreakable, and on the other side of that, it's shocking how little time it provides for its anticipated final showdown.
Instead, the vast majority of the story takes place within the walls of a highly secure hospital and a set of specially designed rooms -- which, in retrospect, really feels like less of a narrative choice and more the result of serious budget restrictions. This is a pretty bad move by itself, as what you really want to see is how these heroes and villains act out in the real world within the franchise's specific set of rules. But what makes it worse is Glass' attempt made to try and make you question what you think you know about these characters and their extraordinary abilities. Knowing that the film committing to this route would totally hollow out the entire essence of the series, you never actually believe for a second that this might be the reality, which makes it even worse that it tries so, so very hard on the sell.
With that element taken out of contention for attention-grabbing, what you're left with is three weirdos quietly occupying a hospital, and it's exactly as exciting as it sounds. There are multiple points throughout Glass when you find yourself wondering exactly when it is that the story is going to start, and by the point that it actually gets around to it, there isn't anywhere near enough real estate left in the runtime to make it into anything substantial or interesting.
That last point very much needs to be stressed, as while I won't be approaching anything close to spoilers in this review, the conclusion of this film is a worse disaster than Eastrail 177. Not only does it leave all of its characters in a terrible place while trying to jam in a bit of extra plot that could only generously be called a twist, but any and all reveals are head-shakingly bad and mishandled. Adding insult to injury, it's also extremely confusing in addition to being stupid, and it's hard to decipher why it was selected as the chosen direction.
At the very least one of the positives is that there's another excellent performance from James McAvoy, who really is stunning as he bounces between his character's multiple personalities -- but within the same field it's also underwhelming just how little opportunity Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis are given to do the same. The former doesn't actually speak in the entire first half of the movie, instead just acting like a vegetable (not super great for an eponymous role); and once the latter is hospitalized, he doesn't really have much to do beyond half-heartedly getting his confidence shaken by Dr. Staple.
Had Glass been a successful and satisfying trilogy capper, this could have been a great way to kick off 2019, but instead it's a trip up at the starting line. Much like M. Night Shyamalan's earliest work, there was a lot of promise in the writer/director bringing back the world of Unbreakable in an age when superhero films are all the rage, but this one is purely a disappointing dud. As much energy and excitement as there was generated by Split, I expect the total antithesis following the release of Glass.