It’s unclear how much forethought M. Night Shyamalan gave to tying his “Unbreakable” anti-heroes to the multi-personality psychopath of “Split.” And asking him is pointless, because filmmakers lie.
But the upshot of “Glass” is that parking James McAvoy‘s “Horde” of characters benign and lethal, young and old, male, female or uncertain, into an “Unbreakable” sequel about men living under “the delusion” that they’re actual superheroes with actual superpower, just lets McAVoy vamp the picture away from everybody else.
Including the director.
Shyamalan abandons the direction his movie “might” have taken — a promising pursuit of the serial kidnapper/killer on the loose in Philly (McAvoy) by clairvoyant and super-strong vigilante in a poncho The Overseer (Bruce Willis) — for the story that comes after that.
“Glass” turns into a semi-serious dissection of comic book tropes, themes, story beats and traditions, and a seriously dull and sometimes silly psychoanalysis thriller set in an insecure insane asylum overseen by touchy-feely optimist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson).
She’s the specialist in the “delusion” that some people apparently have, that they have special powers, that there have always been supernatural people like themselves. She wants to explain that away — logically.
“Comic books are not history,” she reminds one and all.
When the Horde of personalities that began life as Kevin (McAvoy) and the home security expert turned vigilante Dunn (Willis) are nabbed in mid-brawl, she has three subjects to study. Because the troublesome guy with the brittle bones called “First name ‘Mister, last name ‘Glass'”( Samuel L. Jackson) has long been in custody, and seems to be catatonic.
Raven Hill Mental Hospital has given over a wing to these three, and Dr. Staple has just a couple of days to make progress with the trio and her own reseach. No, we don’t know what’ll happen after that. But considering Glass wiped out everybody on a train save for Dunn 19 years ago (when “Unbreakable” came out) and Kevin/The Horde has been kidhapping and mutilating young women — save for Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) — it won’t be a slap on the wrist and “treatment.
One clever touch — the only thing that keeps Kevin/Hedwig/Patricia et al from turning into the monstrous mass of murderous muscle, able to climb walls and scamper across ceilings is a “hypnosis light.” It’s a strobe whose every flash disconnects whatever guise Kevin is in and prevents The Horde from slaughtering his way to freedom.
McAvoy gets to play an improv game, switching characters every time the strobe goes off — British or redneck, perpetually nine years old or perpetually their “queen bee,” Patricia.
Fans may check into this to see these characters revived, see the return of Dunn’s son (Spencer Treat Clark) or figure out how kidnap victim and sole survivor of a slaughter Casey could be so darned forgiving and sympathetic to at least one or two of Kevin’s less murderous characters.
But for too much of the two hours-plus running time of “Glass” is spent in grim and action-starved simplistic mind-games in the hospital, and a limp noodle of an anti-climax or two that pass for an ending.
The terror, tension, suspense and puzzle-solving of “Split” are abandoned for remedial movie back-engineering two stories into a third.
Willis and Jackson get by on presence and reputation, and Paulson — despite her delightful riffing on comic books and comic book fans who treat them as literature and holy texts — isn’t given enough to play.
Shyamalan compensates for dialogue and situation shortcomings by filming everybody in lots of full-screen close-ups. This is IMPORTANT, those say. Right. Paulson and Taylor-Joy get the best of these.
It all makes for a somber and self-serious (Shyamalan’s Achilles Heel) popcorn pic that is easy enough to sit through even as its pointlessness grows with every act, and its final act underlines and admits it.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language.
Cast: James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy and Bruce Willis
Credits: Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. A Universal release.
Running time: 2:09