When M. Night Shyamalan’s Split met with favorable reviews in 2016, I wondered pretty openly whether or not the film’s twist left a fresher taste in viewer’s mouths than the overall film warranted.
I am not wondering anymore. Glass, the director’s attempt to tie Split more cohesively to Unbreakable, is a dreary, plodding affair, constantly searching for but never finding an artistic rather than merely commercial reason for being.
Pretty much every theme in Glass is a retread of something that had already been expressed better in one of the earlier two films: the beast as protector of the innocent, comic books as Jungian collective unconscious, the Manichean imperative of the universe that necessitates the rise of transcendent evil to confront heroic good.
In some cases, the retreads are even a step backward. Shyamalan attempts to reintegrate Gothic doubt, half-heartedly offering psychological and biological explanations for why what we have witnessed for the last two films isn’t real. Sarah Paulson joins the cast, ostensibly as the world’s dumbest and dreariest mental health professional. The idea that she has three days to break each character of his “delusion” that he is a superhero or villain is filled with so many holes that it is hard to imagine how the eventual revelation of her actual designs could be even dumber, and yet…
I guess this could be viewed as an actor’s showcase for James McAvoy, who appears to be the only one having any fun. It’s hard to imagine who thought it would be a good idea to take Samuel L. Jackson, the epitome of frenetic energy, and reduce him to a catatonic state for half the movie that bears his character’s name. Probably the same writer who put Bruce Willis in a rain poncho as much as possible so that we don’t have to look at his face.
There’s some tired reiterations of arguments about faith and belief and human potential that mostly remind you how much better these ideas are expressed in Kill Bill: Volume 2 or My Night at Maud’s.
What’s happened to Shyamalan the writer? His screenplay for The Sixth Sense was nominated for an Academy Award, but that was the last of his films that, stripped of its twist, had themes or ideas that were interesting in and of themselves. The twist elevated an otherwise good film rather than saving an otherwise mediocre one. Since then, even his better work (which would include Unbreakable and Split) has come across more as script ideas than as actually developed stories.
Most of the advance audience I saw Glass with stayed through the credits in the expectation that there would be some twist or teaser that would, Venom-like, get them more excited for the next installment than they were for the movie they just saw. There was none. I can’t say that I was disappointed to leave the theater without a promise of another installment on the way. The fact that I wasn’t sure whether or not there might be, though, illustrates that Glass was not a successful culmination of the previous story arcs so much as an unsuccessful retell them. It’s the most needless sequel I’ve seen since Hannibal.