Haven’t we learned from the likes of “Zoolander” and “Tron” that making sequels to beloved films over a decade after the first installment causes nothing but harm?
“Glass” is the third film in writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s “grounded superhero” trilogy following “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2017). Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis reprise their roles from the first film, James McAvoy his from “Split” while Sarah Paulson joins the cast as a psychiatrist who captures all three men in an effort to prove they do not have superhuman abilities.
It’s no secret that Bruce Willis has been sleepwalking through his roles for the past decade or so, making straight-to-VOD snoozes and bland misfires like “Death Wish” and “Die Hard 5,” but here, reprising a role that arguably marked the beginning of the end of his truly great filmography, he does at least appear to be trying a bit. There is a sense of respect Willis seems to give his David Dunn character, and even if we aren’t given much of an arc or catch-up about the last two decades of his life, it is clear Dunn has embraced his reluctant role as a super strong protector, something fans of “Unbreakable” surely wanted to see.
Also reprising his role from 2000 is Samuel L. Jackson as evil mastermind Mr. Glass. For much of the film Jackson, who I can’t recall ever actually not giving at least some effort in a performance, even the campiest trash like “Snakes on a Plane,” is sitting motionless in a wheelchair. When he finally gets to moving around in the film’s third act (more on that in a second) it is clear Jackson is having a bit of fun returning to the character, however there is never really that haunting sense about him that is found in “Unbreakable”; he more often than not finds himself just taking everyone’s comments too seriously and wheeling around being an inexplicable puppet master.
James McAvoy was great in “Split” and again shines here as a man with 23 different personalities, including one super-strong half-beast hybrid. McAvoy gets to flex more of the personalities this time around (one of the complaints about the last film was we really only saw five of them) and while some may find him exhausting I thought it just showed how truly great his range as an actor is. I standby that if “Split” (or maybe even this) didn’t come out in January that this is the type of scene-chewing work that lands Golden Globe nominations.
Now if the acting is all fine in an M. Night Shyamalan film then you know the issues will fall with his script and oh boy, are there issues here. It has that classic awful Shyamalan dialogue, using long sentences and big words to try and play like Aaron Sorkin, but just comes off like an AI program was given Dictionary.com and instructed to write a screenplay. Instead of focusing on potentially engaging and entertaining plots, like a cat-and-mouse hunt by Willis to catch McAvoy or the notion that perhaps none of these men actually have superpowers and they’re just well-trained magicians, Shyamalan opts to have a lot (a lot) of close-up POV shots and colorful sets and costumes try and appear artsy or auteur, but it just ends up dragging toward the inevitable escape and showdown (that is both cliche and shown in the trailer).
I didn’t totally hate “Glass” but it just has a lingering sense of “why?” about it. It will not please fans of “Unbreakable” outside of the brief joy of seeing familiar faces, it really doesn’t share much of the same tone as “Split” outside James McAvoy acting like a 9-year-old, and as a deconstruction of the superhero genre it is not smart enough to get to where it needs to be. Somehow, this is far from M. Night Shyamalan’s worst film and I give him all the credit in the world for continuously climbing back from critical and commercial stinkers and doing what he loves, but I think making the smaller little thrillers like “The Visit” and “Split” is where he shines, not trying to tear down an entire genre he built 19 years ago.
Critic’s rating: 4 out of 10.