A few years ago M. Night Shyamalan foreshadowed a return to his past in the final moments of his surprise hit, Split. If you’re familiar with the man’s prolific mediocrity, the fact that there was a twist is unsurprising, but that it referenced a film almost two decades old was one out of the vault. After meeting more than twenty sides of James McAvoy we never thought we’d see—collectively known as the Horde—the film closed on a morose Bruce Willis, reprising his role as indestructible vigilante hero David Dunn (or the Overseer) from 2000’s Unbreakable, confirming a trilogy no-one knew was gestating.
The third, Glass, takes its name from Samuel L. Jackson’s criminal mastermind Elijah Price, who goes by the name Mr Glass, the man who guided train crash survivor Dunn into his underground superhero career and who has been languishing in an asylum for the criminally insane for nineteen years. What proceeds is a smaller twisted antithesis to the bells and whistles of the Marvel universe.
This trio is an assembly of notoriety that needs little introduction if you have seen Unbreakable and Split. And if you haven’t, then that’s tough because Shyamalan is initially in no mood for recaps. A deep base thrum and some discordant strings will have to do in explaining that these are dangerous people, or more specifically that Mr Glass is.
We pick up as Split left off, with Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy) on the loose after suffering a crisis of conscience. His myriad personalities are still ruled by a precious few who are in thrall of the Beast, whom they consider to be the next step in human evolution. When yet more teenage girls go missing, abducted by the Horde at the Beast’s bidding, the Overseer sets out to apprehend him. In the process they are both captured and taken into custody.
Deemed insane and confined not just to the same institution as Elijah Price, they are left to the devices of psychiatrist Ella Staple (Sarah Paulson), who aims to convince the company of Price, Crumb and Dunn that their superhero beliefs are simply a delusion. Whatever the case, the mere fact of their containment in the same cell block is guarantee enough of their escape at some point, but this is not the only leap of faith needed to navigate over the holes in Shyamalan’s plotting.
You can’t blame Shyamalan that it took twenty years of growing retrospective acclaim for Unbreakable, and then a Marvel cinematic revolution, to enhance the marketability of something like Glass, but the insistence on setting this film nineteen years after the scenes of Unbreakable and then only weeks after Split does make for some gaps in logic that might have been ironed out if producers had given the green light on a sequel back in 2000. Perhaps they could have compressed the story from three films into two, but that’s by the by.
As it is Glass seems stretched, and the result is a muddled and ultimately boring film that is constantly building and losing momentum when scene after scene amounts to a quiet fade, distinguished merely for Willis, Jackson and McAvoy occasionally being in the same frame. After a hasty introduction, Shyamalan’s narrative slows to a crawl, its ominous score completely at odds with reliance on unconvincing pseudopsychiatry and a total lack of scares or tension. At 132 minutes in run time, that much waiting can seem interminable, especially when in its eventual conclusion, one is not enough: ‘No! We’ve got to go full “Return of the King”!’
At these times Shyamalan seems propelled more by making the most of Split’s success than by any sense of narrative cohesion, an opinion redoubled with the consistent focus on McAvoy, who is valiant in trying to inject some energy into proceedings. Comparatively Bruce Willis all but disappears for the middle half and only appears confused when summoned to contribute in the final act, while Jackson is left to twitch and stare mutely for over an hour before springing into action. It’s too late. The yawns have erupted. What tension there was to be released in the climax has died with its over-orchestrated self-referential cleverness, and in place of the appreciation for the trilogy’s intricate comic-inspired lore is an unintended chuckle at the silliness of it all.
Glass is in cinemas from 17th January through Disney.