Night Shyamalan movies are like the proverbial box of chocolates where you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.Glassculminates as the third movie in a series that kicked off with Unbreakable in 2000, just a year after the break-out success of The Sixth Sense. Split premiered in 2016 as the second in this series, after a series of semi-hits and misfires where Shyamalan’s reputation as ‘the twist guy’ seemed to overshadow the quality of his products. Split was a true psychological thriller that put Shyamalan back on the map, and audiences have been looking forward to seeing how Glass rounds out the series.
First things first: Does Glass stand alone, if you haven’t yet caught Unbreakable and Split, since the lead characters in each appear in Glass? The answer is yes and no. Split stands comfortably as an absorbing, complete piece on its own with James Mc Avoy’s character Kevin Wendell Crumb, with almost no reference to Unbreakable. However, without Unbreakable and the introduction to the comic book underpinnings of Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr Glass and the origins of Bruce Willis’ David Dunn, Glass would be missing an element of backstory, so if you can hunt it down for a watch, it’s worth doing.
Glass opens with Willis’ character tracking McAvoy to an abandoned factory where he is holding several young girls hostage, to be sacrificed by ‘The Beast’. McAvoy’s plans are thwarted early on by Willis, but during their scuffling both are captured by the authorities and taken to a high security mental hospital under the care of Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). Mr Glass (also known as Elijah Price from Unbreakable and played by Samuel L Jackson) is also at the hospital, kept under sedation so that he is unable to apply his considerable intellect to escaping. Dr Staple specialises in the treatment of grand delusions – including people who believe they have superhero-like abilities – and she has three days to assess and treat all three so that they accept that the skills they have shown are common to gifted humans, but are no more special than that. Then it turns out that Glass has been faking his state of incapacitation, and hell breaks loose as he acts as the whispering devil on Crumb’s shoulder that encourages Crumb to prove his superhuman abilities to world by taking on Dunn.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot so as to not give away the conclusion (or key aspects of the other films), but in terms of the film itself, it is very focused on the comic book obsession of Mr Glass. From the colour (Green Dunn / yellow Crumb/ purple Glass) and cinematic style, to the at times annoyingly overstated dialogue, the Director’s intent is overstated. Shyamalan feels very present and almost pushy, ‘comicsplaining’ themes through dialogue in a way that’s unnecessary as if he expects the audience to not have a grasp on these despite the infinite number of recent Marvel and DC movies. McAvoy’s character (all 23 of them) feels cramped alongside Willis and Jackson, and despite a great performance, there was more space to appreciate his complexities, quirks and dangers in Split.
Glass is a good film, but a dial down on the comic book emphasis to pitch somewhere between the level of Unbreakable and Split that respects the commitment and engagement of the fans of the series would have led to a more satisfying trilogy conclusion.