As with all my review-caps, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.
Being a Philly girl, I’ve been a fan of M. Night Shyamalan and his Philly-centered work from the very beginning. I haven’t always loved everything he’s put out there, but when I saw Split (2016), I was absolutely blown away. And I was even more blown away when that end-credits scene revealed Bruce Willis’ return as Unbreakable’s (2000) David Dunn. I’ve been on pins and needles ever since waiting to see Glass, which brings both films together and creates a superhero universe all its own. One could say it’s Shyamalan’s very own MCU…get it? Sorry, that was goofy. Never mind. Moving on…
For those unfamiliar, Glass refers to Willis’ adversary from Unbreakable, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who has the mind of a super-genius but bones as fragile as…well, you know. “Mr. Glass” is the one who showed David Dunn that he was, in fact, a superhero after surviving the deadly train wreck that killed all aboard but him. In turn, Dunn discovered that it was Mr. Glass who caused the train wreck (among many other disasters) in the first place – his superpower being that of the evil mastermind.
Cut to present day, and as Glass begins, David Dunn has been living like a normal guy, running a home security equipment store with his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) – but that’s just the cover for the real deal. David still does his part to fight crime, and Joseph helps – basically Alfred to Dad’s Batman. Time-wise, it’s only been a few weeks since the end of Split, which introduced a wonderfully terrifying character in Kevin Wendell Crumb (played brilliantly by James McAvoy) – a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder, whose personality has divided into 24 separate identities. The worst and most dangerous of them is only known as “The Beast,” who actually transforms ordinary Kevin into a superhuman, homicidal (not to mention cannibalistic) creature.
David’s been tracking the Beast since he kidnapped three girls and killed two at the Philadelphia Zoo. The third girl, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), survived when the Beast discovered that she was one of the “broken” – those who have suffered and are therefore the only people worthy to live. (In Casey’s case, she had been sexually abused by her uncle from a young age and internalized her suffering by cutting herself.)
The police in Philadelphia search like crazy for Kevin Wendell Crumb, whose main alternate personalities (known as the “Horde”) have kidnapped four more girls to serve up to the Beast as a meal. But while the search continues for Kevin, the cops are just as eager to capture David for his vigilante adventures – although the average folks consider him a superhero, giving him names like the “Green Guard” and the “Overseer.”
David and Joseph manage to pinpoint the general area where the Horde have been most active, one of Philly’s abandoned industrial neighborhoods. David goes looking, brushing up on people he passes by, which gives him the ability to “see” into their lives. He doesn’t have any luck until he bumps into a guy acting like a kid – it’s Kevin, but controlled by another personality, a 9-year old kid named Hedwig (the biggest scene-stealer of all the “alters”). Hedwig runs off, but with Joseph’s help, David finds the building where the girls are being held. But as he frees them, Kevin returns – this time as the Beast – and attacks David. The awesome super-fight ends with both of them going out a window and landing right in the middle of a ton of Philly cops – along with a psychiatrist named Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who has a secret weapon to use on Kevin – a set of strobe lights that when set off, force Kevin to change personalities.
The cops haul Kevin and David off to the psychiatric hospital – the same one where Mr. Glass has been residing all these years. Dr. Staple sets up the three superheroes in their own personalized cells – Glass is kept in a padded room under extremely heavy sedation, Kevin’s has the strobe-light setup, and David’s has a set of hoses ready to blast him with water (his only weakness, as he nearly drowned as a kid). She talks to each of them individually and then together, explaining that her specialty is the treatment of the superhero delusion. She does her best to convince all of them that their special abilities aren’t special at all – and while it seems to have an effect on both Kevin and David, of course, we know better.
In the meantime, Casey, Joseph and Glass’ mother (Charlayne Woodard) have all arrived to help – and it turns out that Casey is particularly effective at helping Kevin. Even though he tried to kill her, Casey feels a deeper connection with him – and just the affectionate touch of her hand is enough to push the alters aside and bring Kevin back. But it doesn’t last, and the Horde takes over again, much to the delight of Mr. Glass – who, it turns out, hasn’t been taking his meds for quite a while. He slips out of his room and visits with Kevin, introducing himself to the Horde (in the form of Patricia, the other standout alter) and offering a proposal to get them out – as long as he can meet the Beast.
Glass convinces the Beast that in order to prove his existence, abilities and his mission of elevating the “broken,” he must battle David in front of the world, in full public display. The Beast accepts his help and working together, they get out of the hospital – but not before Glass also turns off the hoses in David’s room, telling him that all he needs to do is get through the steel door to get out (in other words, he has to believe in his own superhero-ness). David of course, overcomes the doubt that Dr. Staple planted in his mind and busts out.
Still with me? Yeah, I know, it’s a lot. So at this point both Glass and David make sure to get out of their dingy scrubs and into their signature costumes for the big showdown out in front of the hospital, where the Beast wastes no time in going after David in full-on animal-like leaping. All the characters are standing around watching the melee, but none of them seem to know what to do until Joseph inserts himself into the mix. He informs the Beast that Kevin’s father, who left when he was a child, was on the same train as David and died in the wreck – which means that Mr. Glass is actually the cause of all Kevin’s suffering since he caused the wreck. The Beast then turns on Glass and hits him with a couple of bone-shattering blows.
Now here’s where it gets really bizarre – while Glass is laying there dying (way too slowly given his injuries), and a sniper suddenly takes the Kevin out, a couple of the cops gang up on David and start drowning him in a pothole full of water. Dr. Staple rushes up and tells David to grab her hand, which gives him a vision of Dr. Staple’s true intentions – turns out she’s actually working for some unnamed shadow organization whose mission is to cover up superheroes’ existence – either by treatment that convinces them they’re not super, or by killing them – which, alarmingly, is what happens in this case. Yeah. All three of them die. Really. No, they don’t come back to life after a few minutes. They’re dead-dead.
Dr. Staple then reports her successful work to her superiors – but then during a trip to a comic book store on her way to her next assignment, she realizes something she may have missed – the hidden plan of the evil mastermind. Dr. Staple rushes back to the hospital’s security office and realizes that the hundred-or-so cameras she ordered installed actually worked against her, uploading footage of the showdown before she deleted everything. Turns out, Glass made sure the footage was e-mailed to his mother, Casey and Joseph, who puts the footage on the internet. Then the three of them get together at 30th Street Station, have coffee and watch as the world learns the truth of the existence of superheroes through viral video. The end. To be continued? Maybe – or maybe not. It’s not made clear.
I wish I could say that I loved Glass as much as I loved Split. The well-put-together trailers promised an epic match-up, and for a while, it delivers – but gradually, things start to unravel. It feels like listening to this gorgeous piece of music that hits a sour note – and then another, and another, until what was flowing so beautifully now sounds off-key and all over the place.
I think one big problem with the flick is the addition of Dr. Staple, which I hate to say because Sarah Paulson is such an excellent actor. But so much screen time is devoted to Staple and her rather clunky psychological dissection of the three supers. And then this big-bad shadow organization she’s secretly working for – which isn’t a terrible idea, but given everything else that’s going on, it just seems intrusive and unnecessary. All that screen time would have been much better spent on the already-established characters, especially Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey and Spencer Treat Clark’s Joseph (who’s an especially awesome addition), who unfortunately end up as minor characters in a story where they should have been much more prominent.
Even David Dunn gets a bit lost in the shuffle, taking a definite backseat after the first act to Glass and especially Kevin – there was a definite difference in McAvoy’s performance here, and it wasn’t just due to the length of time between shoots. Whereas Split gave his performance time to breathe and allow for subtlety, Glass seemed way more interested in showing how fast McAvoy could switch gears and transform himself, which made it seem gimmicky at times.
Another major story issue is killing off all three of the supers. Shyamalan’s famous for his clever twist endings – but I wouldn’t call this one of them. In fact, I don’t get why it was done at all (except that maybe the actors themselves don’t want to continue playing them), because all it does is limit the storytelling options going forward, in a larger story that only just started to get going. And if the idea was to pass the torch on to Casey and Joseph (even though they’re not supers), I didn’t get that at all from that non-ending ending. I left the theater way more confused and underwhelmed than intrigued and eager to see more (if there even is more).
So while I still enjoyed the flick for individual scenes, moments and performances that stood out, overall, Glass has me pretty bummed out. There was so much potential there for a truly epic, original superhero tale set in today’s world. And I still hold out some hope that Shyamalan can deliver on it someday, because I know he’s more than capable – but unfortunately, Glass isn’t it.
Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Release Date: Jan. 18, 2019
Run Time: 2hr 9 min
Distributor: Universal Pictures