By: Steve Pulaski
There's something broadly entertaining and mystifying about the way M. Night Shyamalan takes three of his most treasured characters and moves them around like chess pieces in one large, entertaining spectacle of deception. That is Glass put pithily. Its captivating climax and affirming conclusion, however, come at the expense of a talky first act and some narrative discombobulation throughout. After the low-key stunner Unbreakable and the revival of Shyamalan's career no one could've seen coming that was Split, Glass messily but favorably concludes one of the most inventive trilogies in American cinema over the last two decades.
The film takes place less than a month after Split. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is now a vigilante superhero known as "The Overseer," knocking out petty criminals and social degenerates while sporting a doomy green poncho. Aided by his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), David's goal is to find Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), whose 24 dueling personalities all culminate into a superhuman monster known as "The Beast," which is feared to wreak havoc following Kevin kidnapping three girls.
Both David and Kevin are captured by police and placed in a high-security asylum. Under the care of a disturbingly mannered therapist (Bird Box's Sarah Paulson), the two are captured in order to be effectively brainwashed into believing their so-called "superpowers" are a product of their own delusions. Soon enough, the two misfits realize they're not alone and that David's archnemesis, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), also known as "Mr. Glass" due to his brittle bones, is among them. Glass sees the potential in The Beast's personality as the missing piece of his comic book fantasy, and by teaming up with the unstable and entirely unpredictable soul, he'll be able to take out David and bring his entire plan to fruition.
Glass follows the incarcerated trio as they either succumb to the perils of the institution that wants to rid them of what makes them unique or rebel and defend who they are ultimately are. Also entangled in this web of madness is Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), the lone survivor of Split, who mysteriously overcomes her traumatic personal life and her kidnapping in order to be the nurturing mother-figure for Kevin. This is Glass' most baffling and egregious plotpoint, which is telling giving its convoluted narrative and eclectic lead characters. Shyamalan leaves Casey's saga largely undone, and someone as good as Taylor-Joy shouldn't practically be sidelined as a faceless shell that inexplicably consoles the very man who tried to maim and kill her, not to mention killed her friends.
Shyamalan clearly wanted to make Glass more exposition-based than the previous two films, which results in a very long-winded and sometimes boring first hour that is liable to disengage those who were so intrigued by Split that they just had to see how this film would play out. Paulson's therapist is a better allegory for strictly-by-the-books institutions whose very rules and regulations undermine individuality than she is a character, and while the scene when she holds an intervention with David, Kevin, and Elijah, it simply becomes a slog.
The three leads couldn't be better. While Willis isn't going to convince anyone that he's checked back into his performances given the terribly phoned-in job he did in last year's Death Wish, his icy, self-reflective nature counterbalances the manic energy of McAvoy, who is even more astounding here than he was in Split. McAvoy's ability to change the pitch of his voice, accents, and facial expressions and postures at the drop of hat has only improved — something I wouldn't have guessed would be the case given his work in Shyamalan's previous film was so poised. The amount of screentime he gets and the frantic pace at which Shyamalan keeps his most recently introduced character running shows a director's trust in his talent, and in this case, deservedly so. Jackson's role grows from a catatonic state to a lively, conniving outcast whose demeanor comes to a head during the film's breathless third act.
The pressure on Shyamalan to condense this saga into a trilogy shows by the way Glass packs so much into one movie. I feel as if I'll need another viewing (especially of the entire trilogy) before I cement my thoughts, and part of that is because how quickly our writer/directors gets the lead out and shifts gears during the last 50 minutes. In the process, Shyamalan needlessly complicates the conclusion, but gives us a remarkably satisfying climax that highlights the greatest strengths of his three lead characters and actors both in conjunction. For every negative or setback Glass has, there's a positive attribute to offset it, making it a sometimes sloppy but balanced conclusion to a memorable trilogy from a director, I'll admit, I am happy to embrace once again.