Glass caps off M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Eastrail 177’ trilogy, following Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016). Unlike its forerunners, though, it lacks the element of surprise: Unbreakable was a covert comic book movie and Split a secret sequel, while Glass is known to be the crossover film linking them. As a result, it comes laden with expectations that it never quite lives up to.
Like a really stripped-back Avengers, Glass throws together characters from standalone films: Split’s Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) and his 23 other personalities cross paths with indestructible security schlub David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and brittle-boned criminal mastermind Elijah Price, AKA Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). Kevin and hulking alter-ego, the Beast, are still at large, while David has earned various nicknames for his vigilante efforts. It’s no spoiler to say the film opens with David on the hunt for Kevin.
Kevin, David, and Elijah swiftly end up incarcerated (as seen in the trailers), where Dr. Ellie Staple (a slightly hammy Sarah Paulson) studies them as part of her research into people who believe they are superheroes. While Shyamalan’s decision to keep the scale contained is admirable, you do hanker for something a bit more epic from this long-awaited culmination, and the lethargic pace seems unnecessary given we’ve already had two films of slow-burn build-up.
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It both tantalises and frustrates that Glass is speckled with moments of greatness. The opening 20 minutes with David on the prowl are terrific, and exactly the sort of thing Unbreakable fans have been waiting for. McAvoy once again gives a virtuoso performance, flitting in and out of personalities with ease. Samuel L. Jackson is also charismatic fun, particularly when Elijah’s masterplan eventually starts clicking into place.
While it’s nice to see Willis taking a break from direct-to-DVD duds, David’s stoic muscularity doesn’t lend itself to being locked in a cell. Much of the emotional heavy-lifting is done by the core trio’s family and acquaintances: David’s son and Elijah’s mum (Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard reprising their roles from Unbreakable) and Kevin’s former captive Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). Elijah is gifted some affecting flashbacks, but recycled Unbreakable clips are an unflattering reminder of just how good that film was.
Shyamalan clearly knows his comics, and delights in having his characters point out the conventions. But it can make for a superhero movie that plays to the head more than the heart, and works better as a conversation-starter (‘What if superheroes are real?’) than as a cinematic experience. The plodding pace also allows a bit too much time to ponder the plot holes and guess at character motivations. Why would a facility designed to hold three individuals with superhuman abilities have such slack security?
The film comes close to delivering on its potential when Elijah is back in Mr. Glass mode and the final showdown nears, but the frankly silly denouement earns eye rolls. This is clearly one ‘for the fans’, but those fans might have had their hearts set on a more rousing conclusion.
- Release date: January 18, 2019
- Certificate: PG-13 (US)/15 (UK)
- Running time: 129 minutes