There are few filmmakers as frustrating as M. Night Shyamalan – he has some considerable talents in creating an interesting premise, and his technical execution can be top notch- but when it comes to pulling it all together into an equally tidy complete package he fails.
In Glass, there are so many of the right elements; cast, worldbuilding (and an audience desperately wanting to love a film), that it's unfortunate that on leaving the theater, the metaphor that comes to mind is watching someone with a clear field running towards the goal line only to trip and slide nose first only to stop inches short.
2016's Split was a pleasant change from his prior outings (The Visit and After Earth), and with an added bonus of James McAvoy's Horde sharing the same universe as 2000's Unbreakable (with Bruce Willis as David Dunn). Now we're back with David out doing city patrols, playing the role of vigilante superhero. Horde is continuing to capture groups of women for slaughtering. David's main target is Horde and just as they finally come face to face the police arrive and whisk them off to the Raven Hill Memorial Psychiatric Hospital. It's in the same facility that David's arch-nemesis Mr. Glass (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is also being studied.
Each of the three are being held in a way that suppresses their individual superpowers. It's Dr. Ellie Staple (played by Sarah Paulson) who is trying to cure them of their delusions of grandeur.
Willis and Jackson are their regular iconic selves turning in solid but unenthusiastic performances, while Paulson seems strangely miscast. It's McAvoy who chews up every scene that he's in and lifts the film out of being purely a dull trod. Watching him shift between the various aspects of The Horde is a delight. However the pacing of the film feels like it wants to be deep and thoughtful (and it is successful in setting that up), but when it pivots to hit its 3rd-act climax it's deeply underwhelming, and not nearly worthy of the characters they've set up. So much so that it feels that the film basically wastes our attachment to all three of them.
The incessant references to comic book's being the cultural memory of real people with special powers and their exploits is repeated so many times that it becomes more of a punchline than a plot point. It's a point the first half dozen times it's mentioned, after that the audience begins to groan – all right, we get it. It's Shyamalan's lack of ability to polish and edit himself and his scripts that near-fatally wounds Glass. Overlaying a truly inspired potential for a story is a permeated feeling of self-indulgence on the part of Shyamalan. It would be great to shake that feeling, and to have a more compelling last act, because there's so much to love in this story; but this is a time where the storyteller won't get out of his creation's way.
Glass opens on Friday January 18th, 2019.