There’s a 45-minute chunk in the middle of Glass that could be the foundation for a good movie. As all three main characters are imprisoned in a mental institution, a semi-interesting point is raised about their perceived superpowers: If you truly believe yourself to be special, is that half the battle? It certainly worked for Batman (that plus millions of dollars).
But even then, the cracks show. Though the head psychiatrist has decided they all lack superpowers, she’s given them very unique and specific cells; why also only assign one security guard at a time? Why the arbitrary deadline to convince them they’re wrong? Some of this is necessary story-based ignorance to move things along; a lot is writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s disregard for a cohesive plot. But all of it is bad news, and it leads to the casual disintegration of a movie that was probably doomed from the start.
If you’re a fan of this hastily assembled Shyamalan-verse, you know the three leads: David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) and Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy). They’re all brought together in the aforementioned institution by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), an expert on delusions of grandeur who works to convince each of them that they’re not powerful after all. Though I suppose just to be safe, she’s outfitted Dunn’s cell with several dozen high-powered hoses (water is his “weakness”) and Crumb’s with a personality-switching light to contain the Horde of people within him.
Mr. Glass is there as well; he appears to be catatonic, but you can guess what comes next. All of this is accompanied by truly bad dialogue from Shyamalan, and not even because it’s contrived and cliched. He just cannot be concise; people repeat the same words over and over in monologues, and their explanations are torturously long. Nothing written by Shyamalan has ever sounded natural, but it’s particularly debilitating to hear his characters do something verbose like dissect the concept of comic books or superpowers.
He also cannot direct action sequences; when David and The Beast (Crumb’s superpowered personality) face off in the institution’s courtyard, it’s almost embarrassing to watch. There’s the aura of intensity but none of the substance; the scope and scale of the shots are all wrong. Based on how ho-hum and empty it feels, Shyamalan might as well be implying that these aren’t two superhumans doing battle, that Dr. Staple was right after all. Yet at that point, it’s clear that they are indeed special. The only logical explanation: This isn’t his forte, yet some sort of showdown is necessary. It’s a comic book climax directed by someone who shouldn’t be helming a comic book movie.
The only saving grace(s) are the three leads, who are all varying levels of solid. Willis seems like he’d rather be elsewhere but still gives it the ol’ college try for his buddy M. Night; Jackson is comatose in a wheelchair for 90 minutes but shows up for the big moments. And McAvoy, who somehow made Split more than bearable, puts on his working shoes once again and builds Kevin Crumb and all his personalities into an actual character with some level of depth. But calling in three favors (and hiring Paulson, who is terrific but exists to just push events forward) can’t fix all these other flaws.
I believe that the last scene of Split is deservedly legendary; tying that movie back to Unbreakable in such a contrived yet unexpected fashion was a thing of beauty. But we all knew that the magic wouldn’t last; springing a genuine surprise on a moviegoing audience in 2016 was worth a round of applause, but it doesn’t make up for years of very, very bad movies. The real twist is that Shyamalan got a chance to finish this “trilogy” in the first place.
And it won’t be his last; Glass has already made $200 million worldwide on a $20-million budget, meaning the M. Night resurgence is in full swing. But whatever deal with the devil he made to create The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs has long since ended; he’s making money again but not good movies. Ignore the hype, the box office, and the big names; Glass is bad, and so is its director.