Movie review: M. Night Shyamalan's 'Glass' fails to live up to provocative premise
"Glass" -- ★ ★
The best part of M. Night Shyamalan's intermittently tedious, trilogy-topping tale "Glass" has to be its irresistibly provocative premise.
Shyamalan merges the two lead characters from his pensive, 2000 comic book-inspired thriller "Unbreakable" with the multiple-personalitied serial killer from his lurid 2017 "Split."
Sure, it sounds appealing, but the giddy sense of surprise we associate with an M. Night Shyamalan movie ever since his breakthrough success "The Sixth Sense" has evaporated in this suspenseless, yet strangely intriguing sequel.
Even the big twist that we know lurks in the narrative shadows comes off anticlimactic, evoking a "What? That's it?" reaction. (Of course, there's a twist. It's an M. Night Shyamalan movie.)
Nineteen years have passed since David Dunn (a gray-bearded Bruce Willis, resembling a perturbed Kriss Kringle) became the only survivor of a terrible train crash.
He now uses his psychic ability to touch people and see what evil lurks in the hearts of men, so that his vigilante alter-ego, dubbed the Green Guard, can go into action, aided by his now-adult son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark reprising his 2000 role).
One day on the street, Dunn touches a man and sees a vision of the four missing high school cheerleaders he's been looking for, trapped somewhere in a nearby warehouse.
The man turns out to be one of the 24 personalities settled into the psyche of Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), the scary nemesis who gave audiences the reason to see "Split."
Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass, the master villain with the frail bone disease who wrecked that train two decades ago, spends half this movie silently staring at the camera in a catatonic trance we can't be sure is real. (The trailers ruin the surprise.)
These three men wind up in a high-security psycho ward where Sarah Paulson's coldly analytical Dr. Ellie Staple employs absurd skepticism trying to convince them that they suffer from superhero delusions, all created as a response to past traumas.
"Unbreakable" took the fledgling comic book movie genre to an innovative level of contemplative seriousness just before the Marvel Comics Universe came along.
"Glass" feels like a crass attempt to adopt the interconnected movie model of the MCU without bringing anything new to the party.
The enticing mystery that buoyed "Unbreakable" is gone, along with our empathy for Shyamalan's inaccessible characters, barring Crumb's more sympathetic personalities at war with their nastier counterparts, especially "The Beast," an incredible bulk of blue veins and muscles clad in yellow tights.
Whenever "Glass" conjures up something approaching fun, it seems almost accidental, such as a hospital scene in which Crumb switches personalities every time a strobe light flashes. (A barrage of flashes precipitates an amazing quick-change showcase for McAvoy's versatile talents, an impressive feat that recalls Robin Williams in his prime.)
Shyamalan clearly meant the edgy material in "Glass" to be an R-rated experience, but the restrictive market forces of a PG-13 dictate the more graphic acts of violence be staged off-screen, diluting the movie's visceral impact.
Nonetheless, bold weirdness and a timely comic book marketing hook give "Glass" some class, even if it fails to shatter our expectations.
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Starring: Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated PG-13 for language, violence. 129 minutes