DEVIN MEENAN — M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass serves as a sequel to both Unbreakable and Split, acting as a finale to the loose trilogy that the three films compose. I should make something clear up front; how you respond to Glass will depend on your feelings toward Unbreakable and Split. I err on the side of liking the two films, so consequently, I mostly liked Glass.
Unbreakable was the story of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a man who becomes the sole survivor of a train crash and, due to the prompting of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), discovers he has superhuman durability and strength. The film concludes with David discovering that Elijah staged the crash in an effort to find a superhuman.
Split, a seemingly unrelated film. featured Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), a DID-afflicted man who kidnaps three teenage girls as an offering to one of his alternate personalities; The Beast, a cannibalistic being with super strength.
Glass continues from Split’s post-credits twist it took place in the same setting as Unbreakable, opening with David, who has spent the last two decades since the events of that film using his abilities for vigilantism, confronting the Beast, the D.I.D.-afflicted antagonist of Split.
From there, the film proceeds from this expected crossover clash to its true conflict; Dunn and Crumb are locked in an asylum alongside Unbreakable antagonist Elijah, where psychiatrist Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson) attempts to convince the trio their superhuman qualities are merely a shared delusion.
Glass carries on with Unbreakable’s metatextual themes of examining how comic book storytelling tropes would unfold within the confines of a firmly reality-based setting; it’s obviously no coincidence the film involves a melding of two tangentially related properties given that superhero cinema has broken into cultural mainstream through the “cinematic universe,” model.
Given that Elijah’s actions Unbreakable resulted from a desire to prove superheroes existed outside the panels of his beloved comic books, it makes sense that he is positioned as the lynchpin of the film. On the flipside, Dr. Staple and her goal of making the superhuman trio “forget” their abilities could be read as a metaphor for comic book readers moving on from their childhood obsessions, something Elijah has failed to do.
Unfortunately, these meta-themes end up exposing some of Glass’ flaws, which largely lie in the writing. Shyamalan’s weakness has always lied in the execution of his ideas, and much of the dialogue in this film suffers from that weakness; the script occasionally devolves into a lecture and often brings to the surface what might have been better served as subtext.
Thankfully, the film at least has a talented enough cast that some material works better than on paper. McAvoy is the standout, demonstrating even greater range than he did in his Split through his portrayal of Crumb’s 17 different personalities. Jackson delivers one of his most understated performances, but one that nonetheless works quite effectively, while Willis at least doesn’t sleepwalk through his performance, which, considering his recent performances, counts for something.