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Front Page - Friday, January 25, 2019

Disastrous ‘Glass’ shatters high hopes for ‘Unbreakable,’ ‘Split’ sequel

I’d like to change one thing about Forrest Gump’s quote about life. Instead of saying life is like a box of chocolates, I’d like to say life is like an M. Night Shyamalan film.

The rest of the quote will remain intact: You never know what you’re going to get.

Are you going to get a film by the writer and director of “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Split?” If so, then you’re in for a cinematic treat from a talented storyteller.

When Shyamalan is working on all cylinders, he makes movies that have an engaging sense of mystery, are visually appealing and feature nuanced characters whose struggles allow the filmmaker to explore compelling themes.

For example, built into the creepy, atmospheric “Sixth Sense” is an insightful and emotionally devastating study of death and loss.

Or are you going to get a film by the writer and director of “The Happening,” “Lady in the Water” or “After Earth?” If so, then you’re in for a movie so audaciously bad, it defies explanation.

How can a filmmaker capable of producing a classic like “Unbreakable” unleash a massive stinker like “The Happening,” in which trees around the world conspire to protect the planet by killing off mankind?

Or, more to the point of this review, how can a filmmaker follow the semi-brilliant “Split” with the disastrous “Glass?”

“Glass” is the third movie in the “Unbreakable” trilogy, which includes “Split.” Released in 2000, “Unbreakable” was a quiet examination of comic book tropes, with Bruce Willis’ David Dunn serving as the unwitting hero and Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass the villain.

Set in the real world, the film turned the comic book genre inside out by asking, “What if people with special abilities actually existed?”

Shyamalan expanded on his answer in “Split,” which features a brilliant performance by actor James McAvoy as The Hoard, an individual suffering from dissociative identity disorder. One of the character’s personalities was The Beast, a physically enhanced and evil super human.

Viewers didn’t know “Split” was an “Unbreakable” sequel until the stunning final shot, which showed Dunn in a diner listening to news reports about the events in the film.

After that surprising revelation, my expectations for “Glass,” which brings Dunn, Glass and The Hoard together, were high. I assumed the Shyamalan of “Unbreakable” was back, and that the man who had made “The Happening” was on vacation (much like The Hoard’s various personalities rise to the surface and then disappear).

I was wrong. Woefully, painfully wrong.

The story involves the capture of Dunn and The Hoard, ostensibly by local authorities, and the subsequent attempts by Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist, to treat what she says are their delusions of grandeur.

To keep the two super humans at bay between sessions, Dr. Staple incarcerates them in the same facility where Glass has been marinating in sedatives since the end of “Unbreakable.” The building has been outfitted with equipment that exploits their weaknesses. For example, a large water tank has been installed outside Dunn’s room, whose kryptonite is water.

Dr. Staples tries to play off the presence of the exploits as part of their therapy, but I knew better long before any of them did.

Once again, McAvoy is brilliant as The Hoard, and it’s a thrill to see Willis back as Dunn. But that’s where the film’s pleasures begin and end. Worse, Shyamalan’s mistakes are so egregious they smother the joy of revisiting these characters.

The heart of Shyamalan’s story is fine. Instead of serving as another study of comic book tropes, “Glass” is a merciless deconstruction of the genre. Rather than heightening our awareness of comic book tropes by placing them in a real-world context, as “Unbreakable” did, the film aims to subvert our expectations by doing the opposite of what we anticipate at every turn.

For example (mild spoiler), the film doesn’t end with a big showdown at the opening of a new skyscraper, as is foreshadowed several times, but with a small-scale brawl in a parking lot. This is essentially sacrilege in the comic book vernacular.

After 11 years of splashy Marvel and DC Comics endings, this could have been refreshing – even therapeutic. But Shyamalan botches his opportunity to do something special with “Glass” by wrapping the film in ham-fisted, self-congratulatory writing.

With “Unbreakable,” a far more subtle Shyamalan let audiences figure out on their own that they were actually watching a superhero origin film. But with “Glass,” he must have been worried audiences wouldn’t get what he was doing, or maybe he was desperate to display his alleged genius for all to see, as he repeatedly stops the action to explain what’s happening.

“Ah, the arrival of the secondary characters,” Glass grins as the various sidekicks in the film show up just as the final battle is beginning to brew.

That’s not too bad, but imagine someone doing that at every turn. By the time two characters were discussing the differences between limited-edition comic books and origin stories – while one of them was dying! – I was ready to throw my uneaten Raisinets at the screen.

Compounding matters, Shyamalan seems incapable of writing natural-sounding dialogue. As the actors try to wrap their mouths around his awkwardly composed lines, you can almost hear the tragic clacking of his keyboard.

Shyamalan’s plotting is questionable, too. For example, there are no reasons for the sidekicks to show up unannounced in the aforementioned scene; they simply do. And did Shyamalan really think no one in the audience would wonder why the costly mental health facility in which Dunn, Glass and The Hoard are imprisoned has no guards, but instead is staffed overnight by a single, defenseless nurse?

The final nail in the film’s coffin is Shyamalan’s clunky direction. At one point, as The Hoard is threatening Dunn’s life, Dunn’s son rushes between them and makes what Shyamalan must have intended to be a shocking revelation. The moment fizzles, though, due to awkward acting and framing.

Early in this review, I asked how someone who made a minor masterpiece like “Unbreakable” could follow it with a stinker like “The Happening.” I wondered the same thing as I watched “Glass” with a sinking heart.

Perhaps the answer lies in Shyamalan’s perceptions of himself. It’s possible he believes himself to be the genius he was once proclaimed to be, and that this germ of an idea has grown to infect his work today. Like Glass, who sounds downright Shakespearean as he draws parallels between the events in the film and comic books, Shyamalan seems to have bought into a grand delusion.

No matter how carefully I choose a chocolate from a box of miniatures, I’m always wary until I take a bite. Likewise, “Glass” was such a crushing disappointment for me as a fan of the other films in the trilogy that it’s made me permanently wary of Shyamalan’s future movies. After all, you never know what you’re going to get.