M. Night Shyamalan's 2016 thriller "Split" was a surprise for audiences and critics. Helmed by an incredible performance from James McAvoy, the film centers around a mentally disturbed man named Kevin with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Several of his identities believe that a dormant personality called the Beast is a literal man eating monster that will protect them from a dangerous world. While "Split" was surprising because it was Shyamalan's first really good movie in years, the real shock was the revelation that it was a sequel to Shyamalan's 2000 superhero drama "Unbreakable." "Glass" is the conclusion to this impromptu trilogy, bringing together Kevin (McAvoy), David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah "Mr. Glass" Price (Samuel L. Jackson). All the pieces seem to be in place for a good movie, but can Shyamalan fight against his infamous ego to get a good product?
In the years since "Unbreakable," David Dunn has become a vigilante with the help of his son Joseph (played again by Spencer Treat Clark). While following the trail of Kevin's horrific murders, both David and Kevin are caught and taken to a psychiatric hospital that also happens to house Mr. Glass, David's long-time enemy. The head psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson) specializes in people who believe they're superhuman, hoping to convince them that they're delusional rather than powerful.
The film basically stops there in the hospital for the majority of the film. A lot of time is spent talking and explaining things for the benefit of the audience with no sense of urgency. There's an attempt to set a time-limit for the characters, but it has no impact on the plot. While it could be interesting to just sit and learn more about the characters, the exposition is delivered so badly that all it does is annoy. The dialogue is often redundant, telling the audience things they already knew. And if it is telling the audience something they don't know, it's delivered in the most awkward, painful way possible. The dialogue sounds like it's trying to sound smart, explaining things that should be simple in cluttered run-on sentences. It's extremely distracting and recalls some of Shyamalan's worst work.
The script also suffers from telling the audience things it should know rather than showing them. The power of the camera is one of the great, unique weapons the film medium has at its disposal. If you choose not to use it and instead use dialogue, you will ultimately bore and even confuse your audience. Always show the drama happening instead of telling the audience what happened.
It's a testament to the abilities of the actors that they're mostly able to make the dialogue work. McAvoy once again astonishes as Kevin's multiple personalities. Jackson turns in an understated performance as Mr. Glass. Anya Taylor-Joy reprises her role from "Split," adding even more depth to the character. The main weak link is Willis, though I don't think this is his fault. He is clearly giving his all in the performance; the issue is that his character isn't written with as much personality as the others. David Dunn is mostly quiet and stoic, with not much clue to his motivations. Because of this, Willis doesn't get many moments to shine as an actor.
David's issues as a character are intertwined with the film's thematic and tonal issues. "Unbreakable" and "Split," while superficially similar, are fundamentally different in terms of message. "Unbreakable" was primarily a story about finding your purpose in the world and what it means if you can't find it. "Split" was about trauma and how you let it affect you. Bringing together characters with these drastically different arcs would be difficult to coincide and the film doesn't quite pull it off. The arcs of Kevin and Mr. Glass are interesting on their own and the conclusions are individually satisfying. The problem is that they clash not only with David's lack of an arc, but with a new underlying message the movie is trying to explore. Fundamentally, "Glass" is about the importance of superheroes and how they can inspire people to be more than they are. Not only is this thematically disconnected from the previous two films, but it covers ground that was already tread in "Unbreakable." David's arc is even a repeat of his journey in that film.
"Split" and "It Follows" cinematographer Mike Gioulakis returns to helm "Glass." That was a mistake. Gioulakis has a specific style of camerawork that works best in films designed to make you uncomfortable. This is why his work in horror and thriller films is so widely celebrated. However, when you have him filming a drama with no sense of urgency, all the power of his abilities is lost. It's even worse when he's forced to film action scenes. His use of close ups and wide-shots feel more ridiculous than intense and the minimalist choreography doesn't help him.
Despite all of these considerable issues, "Glass" has flashes of brilliance that save it from being an entirely lost cause. While Gioulakis' camerawork doesn't often shine, it's incredibly effective in the few moments of tension and discomfort. The conclusion of Kevin's arc is emotionally gripping and feels like the journey started in "Split" has come full circle. Elijah's search for purpose is ended in an equally bittersweet manner. Both of these stories feel like they could've been individual movies on their own rather than part of a cluttered team-up film.
"Glass" has moments of brilliance suffocated by the over-ambition of its director. At least two excellent films are hidden within this one frustrating movie. If you were a fan of either "Unbreakable" or "Split," you might just enjoy it. It offers catharsis and satisfying send-offs for characters you've invested in. It might even be worth a second viewing, but no more than that.